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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 November 2007, 19:57 GMT
Blaze bodies removed from scene
Firefighters and teachers formed a guard of honour as the bodies were removed
Firefighters and teachers formed a guard of honour as the bodies were removed
The bodies of a family of seven who died a fire in Omagh have been removed from the ruins of their home.

Arthur McElhill, his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five children, perished in the blaze at their home in Lammy Crescent on Tuesday.

It is understood Mr McElhill is being regarded as a suspect.

A prayer vigil was held and teachers and firefighters formed a guard of honour as the bodies were removed. A priest spoke of the community's sorrow.

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

Father Tom McManus said Ms McGovern's family was devastated at the news.

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

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

The McElhill family
The McElhill family persished in the blaze

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

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

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.

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

Sex assault

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, of St Conor's Primary School which 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."

It emerged on Thursday that Arthur McElhill was jailed in April 1998 for sexually assaulting a young woman.

Although placed on the Sex Offenders' register, it is understood he was considered to be in the lowest risk category with little chance of re-offending. He had a similar previous conviction in 1994.

There is no suggestion at this stage that the convictions had any bearing on Tuesday's events.

Firefighters and teachers form a guard of honour

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