Fire dad abused me
Victim says she always feared for McElhill's family
Published 16/11/2007 | 07:02
An Ulster woman who was indecently and violently assaulted by Arthur McElhill today told the Belfast Telegraph how she had always feared for the safety of his family.
The woman, aged 31, was attacked by Arthur McElhill - chief suspect in the murder of his partner and five children in Tuesday's house blaze - in 1993 after he forced his way into her home. She was 17 at the time and said she had been living in fear of him ever since.
"I knew I was in real danger. He was trying to suffocate me. The punches were getting really, really bad. He was so violent. I was so young," she said.
The woman added: "When I heard the news about the fire I felt sickened. I was scared of him all my life. I'm so sad for the lady and the children. I had always felt concerned for them because I knew what he was like and what he was capable of."
McElhill received a two year suspended sentence for the attack. Just a few years later he was convicted at Dungannon Crown Court for indecently assaulting another 17 year-old girl in 1996.
As Mr McElhill's body was removed from the family's fire gutted house, alongside the bodies of his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five children Caroline (13), Sean (7), Bellina (4), Clodagh (19 months) and James (9 months), it was reported that 30 year-old Lorraine's eldest daughter Caroline had told school friends that her mother was having another baby, shortly before the devastating fire that wiped out the entire family.
However, well-placed sources today downplayed reports that she was pregnant.
As revelations about Mr McElhill's past continue to emerge, questions are likely to be asked over whether, following Mr McElhill's sex convictions, he should have been subject to some sort of supervision.
It is not known if there had been any concern about Mr McElhill, who was on the Sex Offenders Register, living with his children and so close to a school.
Social Services have not yet commented on whether they are investigating the case. However, it is understood that a convicted sex offender can return to live with his or her children if there is no perceived risk to them, according to legal guidelines.
Post mortem examinations are expected to be carried out today on the seven bodies and detectives will continue their investigations at the scene of the blaze in a bid to determine exactly what happened on Tuesday.
A pathologist who specialises in child death will, it is understood, carry out the post mortems on the children.
Police continue to say that they are treating the incident as seven murders.
However, it is understood they are operating under the theory that Arthur McElhill may have been responsible.
Two of the schools attended by three of the children were reopening today for the first time since the fire.
Sean and Bellina attended St Conor's Primary School across the playground from the burnt-out shell of their former home.
Sean was in Primary 4 and Bellina had just started the school in September and was in Primary 1.
Caroline was a pupil at Sacred Heart College, a short distance away.
Children in the schools have been offered counselling to help them cope with the loss of classmates and teachers will be keeping a close watch on them to assess how they cope with the return to class.
The tragic blaze at Lammy Crescent is the worst ever house fire in Northern Ireland and it has left the local community deeply shocked and saddened.
Last night hundreds of people gathered in the area as firefighters and teachers formed a guard of honour as the seven bodies were removed from the remains of their burnt-out home.
A prayer vigil was held and a priest spoke of the community's sorrow.
The McGovern and McElhill families have been too devastated to talk about the tragedy.
In a statement released by the police they said: "The McGovern and McElhill families would like to extend their thanks to everyone - friends, neighbours and indeed the entire Omagh community, for their support and sympathy at this terrible time.
"The family is also requesting that they are left alone by the media so they can grieve in private."