Page last updated at 08:05 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 09:05 UK

The search for answers begins

The charred shell of Lammy Crescent where the family-of-seven died
The charred shell of Lammy Crescent where the family-of-seven died

It was early morning on November 13 2007 when news first broke of a house fire on a quiet residential street in a country town.

From the very first reports, it was evident that this fire, at a small family home on Lammy Crescent in Omagh, County Tyrone had inflicted the most serious consequences.

A family of seven lived there and the fire service knew firstly, that most or all of them had been inside and secondly, that they had not escaped.

It was the home of Arthur McElhill, his partner Lorraine McGovern, and their five children.

Caroline, aged 13, was the eldest. Next was Sean, who was seven. Then Bellina, aged four, Clodagh, 19 months, and James, just nine months.

The inquest into their deaths begins on Tuesday.

Arthur McElhill, who was a registered sex offender, is suspected of starting the fire with petrol and thus of killing his wife and children.


Much has already been revealed about Arthur McElhill and his relationship with his family.

A report into the deaths was commissioned by the Minister for Health and Social Services Michael McGimpsey.

Arthur McElhill, Lorraine McGovern and their five children
Arthur McElhill is suspected of killing his partner Lorraine and their five children

It was carried out by Henry Toner QC and criticised how different agencies communicated information about the type of man Arthur McElhill was and the crimes he had already carried out.

It focused in particular on social workers employed by the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

Firstly it highlighted how they had to be told by police that Arthur McElhill was a threat to teenage girls, even though the information was in his files and could be accessed by them.

That threat was very real.

A BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight investigation revealed that he used his son's name on the social network site, Bebo, to chat to teenage girls.

Those virtual "friends" had no idea of the danger of the man they were speaking to.

Two women who were just 17 when they were attacked by Arthur McElhill were interviewed by the Spotlight programme.


Armed with such information about the man, social workers did periodically act.

They did remove a young friend of Caroline who had been living in Lammy Crescent.

However subsequent meetings to discuss this teenage girl were not told of Arthur McElhill's record nor was there any assessment of a potential threat to the other children in the house.

The Toner report also referred to a call made by Caroline to police a month before the family died, alerting them to a row between her mother and father.

The Toner report, while asserting that no-one could have known that Arthur McEhill would kill his family, made 63 recommendations about how agencies could interact more effectively in future.

It is not clear how much more detail the inquest will reveal. Its purpose is clear and simple - to establish the cause of death of the seven people who died within the house.

However the witnesses it will call are likely to tell a story of a family whose lives were anything but clear and simple.

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