Page last updated at 22:48 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Omagh fire suspect used Bebo to lure girls

McElhill family
The family-of-seven died in the fire

A man suspected of killing himself and his family in a house fire in Omagh was having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl, an inquest has heard.

Arthur McElhill, Lorraine McGovern and their five children died in the blaze at Lammy Crescent in November 2007.

The inquest, which re-opened on Monday, heard how Arthur McElhill used a Bebo account in his seven-year-old son's name to contact teenage girls.

In the days before the fire he sent over 100 text messages to two girls.

He was also revealed to have been having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl 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 years old.

Mr McElhill, a registered sex offender with previous convictions for assaulting teenage girls, is suspected of deliberately starting the fire killing his partner and their five children.

They were 13-year-old Caroline, seven-year-old Sean, Bellina, 4, Clodagh, 19 months and James, nine months.

A police chief inspector told the inquest on Monday that he did not believe anyone in the house other than Arthur McElhill was capable of starting the fire.

Suicide attempt

Forensic investigators have already told the inquest that the fire started when someone who was inside the house set light to a mixture of petrol and white spirits which had been poured in the hall.

It was also revealed in earlier hearings that Mr McElhill had made a suicide attempt in 1988.

His GP told the hearing she prescribed antidepressants for Mr McElhill, but he did not always take them.

The inquest reopened on Monday after a two-month adjournment.

Neighbour Lee Anne Duffy told the inquest she was woken up some time after 0400 GMT by a man shouting, "you can't run".

Moments later she looked out of the window and spotted a man she was "98% sure" was McElhill getting something from his car.

Within less than five minutes the blaze erupted, she said.

Another neighbour who said he was woken by screams, told the coroner: "I knew this wasn't a fight, it was fear."

Gary Taggart described seeing McElhill at an upstairs window but refusing to climb out and come down a ladder.

"He could have got out through that window," he said.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson is expected to deliver her verdict on Tuesday.



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