The deaconess married to a convicted murderer and rapist is on leave as she and her husband “consider their options”, the Presbyterian Church said.
Carole Cathcart married killer Richard O’Hara (59) in 2004.
He raped and strangled south Belfast woman Deborah Robinson (19) in 1980. There was outrage in the Church of Ireland parish the couple attended in Belfast when his past crimes came to light.
The couple live in The Loup, a quiet Co Londonderry village near Lough Neagh. For the past few weeks, Mr and Mrs O’Hara have been renting a sizeable period property called The Old Manse.
Although the couple’s current home is a redundant rectory that belongs to the Saltersland Presbyterian Church, it is understood the landlords were not initially aware of O’Hara’s identity.
Visibly anxious, Carole O’Hara answered the door, and said in a barely audible voice: “I’m sorry, I have no comment to make.”
Richard O’Hara is on life licence, and has regular contact with the Probation Service.
A spokeswoman said: “To supervise somebody on a life licence would involve a small amount of regular contact — the amount of which would depend on the level of risk assessed and the condition of the licence.”
There was understanding but not too much forgiveness on Monday in The Loup.
Neighbour Christine McVey (51) said: “I’m not at all happy about them being here since I read about the couple in The Belfast Telegraph. He has a history of violence against women. I’ve seen him cutting the grass but we haven’t talked. You see them and the cars going in and out, but that’s inevitable in a country area.”
She added: “In an ideal world, the O’Haras would not be living just opposite. Of course they have to live beside somebody, but here they’re near the local GAA club.”
Another villager, a mother of three girls aged under seven who didn’t wish to be identified, said: “This man, Richard O’Hara, has been living in the area since 2009 but it’s only recently he and his wife have moved to this address.
“The people of the community weren’t aware of who he was but now we’re up in arms. They were well respected in the Presbyterian Church in The Loup before this.”
She said that both sides of the community were united in their desire to see the O’Haras leave.
“Their house is near the GAA field and the practice field where young girls play camogie. He’s overlooking a field where children play and a local school is under a mile away. We don’t feel happy or safe. He has served his time but it wasn’t a one-off.
“This is a rural area and walkers are worried. He comes across as a very nice Christian man but I don’t think he can be trusted. I’ve told my girls not to use the front garden but play in the back.”
A Presbyterian official said he understood interest in the case. The Rev David Bruce, of the Board of Mission and Carole O’Hara’s case manager, said: “I don’t think you’d find anyone in the Presbyterian Church saying anything other than expressing horror at the case under discussion.
“When you are talking about desperate, serious crimes perpetrated against innocent people, outrage is expressed by the Presbyterian congregation and it’s mirrored by the outrage Jesus Christ would have expressed.”
But he added: “Somehow in the midst of Jesus’ outrage about desperate crime there was compassion towards the perpetrator. That is where we are in relation to this case. Carole is on my staff and has been an exemplary deaconess.
“When in December 2004, she and Richard O’Hara got married, we took the decision to support her. In terms of Richard O’Hara’s life licence, it is very clearly defined by the authorities and in relation to Carole’s work, there has been no breach.”
He added: “Carole O’Hara is on leave of absence as she considers the options open.
“Decisions about their future will be taken with great care.”
Former soldier Robert O’Hara met his victim, south Belfast teenager Deborah (19), after she had travelled to Dublin in September 1980 on a blind date arranged through a computer dating agency. He lured Deborah back to a factory where he worked and then raped and strangled her to death. The next day he drove 30 miles outside Dublin to dump the body in a ditch near Clane in Co Kildare. Five years before Deborah’s murder, O’Hara had faced a charge of abducting a nine-year-old girl who died after falling from his car. The charge relating to the 1975 death of Sharon Sparks was dropped on DPP advice when an inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death.