Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

The family man with a dark and sinister past

Lorraine McGovern (left) and Arthur McElhill with their five children, (L-R) Clodagh, 19 months, Caroline, 13, Bellina, four, Sean, seven, and James, nine months, who all died in a house fire in Omagh, Co Tyrone.
Lorraine McGovern (left) and Arthur McElhill with their five children, (L-R) Clodagh, 19 months, Caroline, 13, Bellina, four, Sean, seven, and James, nine months, who all died in a house fire in Omagh, Co Tyrone.
Arthur McElhill with daughter Clodagh

To his friends and neighbours, Arthur McElhill seemed just like any other doting father.

In the days after the Lammy blaze, shocked neighbours recalled a seemingly everyday man who “just lived for his family and was very funny”.

However, beside the happy façade in the family photographs lay a dark and sinister past — for Arthur McElhill was a convicted sex offender.

Slowly details of the 36-year-old’s sordid past began to emerge.

In January 1993, McElhill broke into the home of a 17-year-old girl, beat her and indecently assaulted her. The following year he received a two-year suspended sentence for the attack.

But his violent outbursts did not end and in September 1996, he attacked a second 17-year-old girl in Fermanagh. He spent the next three years in prison.

An independent review commissioned by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey after the Lammy fire uncovered more evidence of McElhill’s unstable mind.

It revealed he had suffered from depression, made a number of suicide attempts and formed an intimate relationship with Lorraine McGovern when she was just 15.

In October 1997 his eldest daughter, Caroline, was placed on the Child Protection Register.

Mr McElhill was released from prison in August 1999 and became one of the first people in Northern Ireland to be placed on the new sex offenders’ register. He was described as ‘medium risk’, before being downgraded to a ‘low risk’ in August 2004.

After the fire it emerged a teenage girl on the Western Health and Social Care Trust Register resided with the family during 2007. No agencies were aware of McElhill’s past convictions.

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