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of the British Broadcasting Corporation

 

 

Thursday, 15 November 2007, 13:59 GMT
Fire theory 'devastates' family


A priest has said the family of a woman who died in a fire along with her five children are devastated at the news her partner could have started the blaze.

Arthur McElhill also died in the fire at the house in Omagh on Tuesday.

Father Tom McManus said the family is having difficulty comprehending the fact that Mr McElhill may be a suspect.

"The news itself was so devastating for them they are just coming to terms with the fact this is a possibility," Fr McManus said.

"The state they are at, it just hit them like a bolt. They are dreading what they are going to hear next."

'Treated as murder'

Petrol had been scattered around the house in Lammy Crescent and it had been set alight.

Police have not formally declared anyone a suspect, but it is understood one theory being investigated is that Mr McElhill may have been responsible.

The bodies of the family of seven are expected to be removed from the ruins of their home later and forensic examinations of the scene are to continue.

Post mortem examinations are expected to be carried out on the bodies within the next 24 hours, the PSNI said at 1545 GMT on Thursday.

Police said on Thursday that all seven deaths were being treated as murder and they would not be commenting on the specifics of the investigation.

Community worker Gerry McCusker said Thursday would be a difficult day.

"When the bodies are being removed, it is hoped that we will pay a prayer tribute to the family," he said.

The eldest of the five children, Caroline, 13, attended the nearby Sacred Heart College.

Sean, 7, and Bellina, 4, were pupils at St Conor's Primary School and the two youngest were Clodagh, 19 months, and James, who was nine months old.

Schoolfriends of Sean and Bellina at St Conor's are receiving counselling.

Katriona McGettigan, whose St Conor's Primary School is beside the burnt-out ruins, said: "The children are very beautiful children. We remember them very fondly, they were a joy to teach.

"I would have only positive memories."

Mr McElhill worked as a stockman for James Crammond, who owns a farm just off the Dublin Road on the outskirts of Omagh.

"I would be totally amazed if they suspected Arthur," Mr Crammond said.

"He spent a lot of time looking after his family, some of them were not very well, heart murmurs, child problems.

"They seemed fairly close. He worked for me for five to six years when he was fit. He was a very capable worker when he was fit."