Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Who was Arthur McElhill?

Arthur McElhill pictured with his daughter, Clodagh

A coroner in Northern Ireland has ruled that a convicted rapist, Arthur McElhill, killed his family by starting a house fire when his partner threatened to leave. Just who was Arthur McElhill?

He will always be remembered as the man who killed his partner and five young children by burning down their home in Omagh in November 2007.

As his eldest daughter, Caroline, 13, made a frantic 999 call for help, McElhill refused the rescue ladder at the upstairs window and turned, grim faced, back into the flames.

McElhill was also a man who attacked two teenage girls as they slept in their beds.

He was a man who drank heavily and had abusive fantasies about having sex with young people.

He was a man who posed as his seven-year-old son to go on to the Bebo website and groom teenage girls for sex.

He was the "family man" who took his teenage babysitter upstairs to have sex in the bedroom while his partner and children sat downstairs.

He was a man who beat his partner.


Arthur McElhill from Ederney in County Fermanagh was a registered sex offender.

In 1993, he attacked a young woman who had just turned 17 in the bedroom of her house.

"He punched away. I was calling out for help. He was like a frenzied animal... I thought I was going to die," she told Darragh MacIntyre from BBC NI's Spotlight.

"I just didn't think that I would survive it to be honest."

He later attacked another 17-year-old girl who was sleeping in a caravan.

Sean McElhill
McElhill was posing on the Bebo site as his son, Sean, who was seven

"The attack that I went through was very, very quick, very intense and very violent," she said.

"I was terrified... I remember just feeling physically helpless... I didn't know I was going to live through it," she said.

"It was somebody who knew exactly what he was doing and knew exactly what he was there to do. And someone like that doesn't change."

He was sentenced to three years in prison for that offence and served half of that sentence.

'Low risk'

As a registered sex offender, from 1993, he was continually monitored by the authorities.

But by 2004, he had been assessed as low risk which meant far less scrutiny of his behaviour.

However behind the scenes in the run-up to the fateful fire, McElhill was having a sexual relationship with a teenager and grooming another young girl on the Bebo website.

The inquest heard that he was having sex with a 16-year-old girl, known as Witness A, in the period before his death. The age of consent in Northern Ireland at that time was 17. It has since been changed to 16.

The teenage babysitter had intercourse with him on at least 10 occasions in the bedroom of his house, sometimes when his wife and children were downstairs.

She said he first lured her to an upstairs bedroom to have a look at his computer. The last time she had sex with him was about three weeks before the fire, she added.

McElhill family
Harrowing scenes at the family funeral

Another teenager, known as Witness B, was bombarded with text messages and obscene calls.

There are reports that he was drinking heavily and that he was also beating his partner.

Three people told the Spotlight programme that he had been regularly hitting his partner, Lorraine McGovern, and one girl - a visitor to the family home - said she had seen Lorraine with a black eye and bruises on her arms.

Significantly, just a month before the fire, his daughter Caroline made a cry for help.

She rang the police because of a terrible row in the house which frightened her.

But Lorraine said nothing had happened and sent the police away.

Two people said that when they saw Lorraine the next day, she looked "as if she had been beaten black and blue".

Could the authorities have acted to stop the fire and save the family?

An independent report outlined failings on the part of health and social services citing deficiencies in how agencies communicate with each other. A total of 63 recommendations were made.

But the report's authors found that the authorities involved could not have known the tragedy that was about to unfold.

Getaway plan?

The inquest also heard how Lorraine McGovern may have been preparing to leave McElhill on the night the family died.

In the burned shell of the house, investigators found five full bottles of baby milk in an upstairs bedroom.

Detective Chief Inspector Scott said that he believed that was unusual.

He added: "I don't think it was for one night. It would be inconceivable that they would need so much milk."

If there was a getaway plan, it was too late and it was not to be.

They could not escape him in life.

But in death, Lorraine McGovern and her five children are buried close to her home in west Cavan, miles away from where Arthur McElhill lies alone in a grave in Ederney, County Fermanagh.

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