Brother admits killing Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey in arson, but denies murder
One of four brothers accused of the double murder of a couple set on fire said he was left "absolutely devastated" by his role in their deaths.
But while Niall Smith confessed to the manslaughter of Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey, he insisted he was not guilty of murder.
Smith apologised yesterday as he began giving evidence at his trial in front of the families of Mr O'Hare and Ms McClatchey at Armagh Crown Court.
Asked by his defence QC Karen Quinliven what he thought about the murder charges, he said: "I will accept a plea of manslaughter." Niall Smith added however "but certainly not to murder, I did not murder these people".
It is the Crown case that the four Smith brothers – Martin (40), from Kevlin Glen, near Omagh; Niall (38), of Mourneview Park in Lurgan; Christopher (33), and Stephen (31), both from Mourneview in Mowhan – launched their attack in revenge for the sexual abuse Thomas perpetrated on Stephen Smith in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
All four deny the couple's murders and arson with intent to endanger life in November 2006.
Seven years ago, Thomas (33) and his girlfriend Lisa (21) were attacked and horrifically burned after the masked brothers burst into Thomas' home on the Foley Road near the village of Tassagh and poured petrol all over the house.
Within days, the couple succumbed to multiple organ failure, brought about by burns to 80% of their bodies.
Yesterday, Niall Smith claimed the brothers decided to burn Mr O'Hare out of his home so he could not live in their area. He said they were concerned Mr O'Hare would abuse their children.
He told Ms Quinliven that "revenge" played no part in the plan and maintained that neither did they intend to kill the abuser nor even cause him any harm at all, just to burn his house down.
On the night of the attack, he said he drove himself and Christopher up from Dublin and met the other two at a quarry and the four got into a Vauxhall Vectra driven by a fifth man he refused to name.
Niall Smith said the brothers did not expect to find their intended victim at home. He described how he went about the house spreading petrol but at no time did he see or hear from Lisa McClatchey.
On his way back from one bedroom "there was a large explosion", adding he himself was turned into a "complete fireball". Claiming no one had planned to light the petrol until everyone was out of the house, Niall Smith said his entire top half of clothes were burnt off, his hair was singed and as he fled he stripped naked.
The same man who dropped them off took them back to the quarry and Martin drove Niall in his silver BMW to Louth hospital.
At the hospital, Niall Smith was put into an induced coma for two weeks, only finding out about the deaths when he came to. He said a social worker told him that gardai wanted to question him about a double murder, adding when she told him it was Thomas and Lisa "I was absolutely devastated".
"It never leaves you. Your heart is just full of sorrow and remorse for what happened. Thomas, he did what he did but he certainly didn't deserve to die like that, and Lisa, well she was the most innocent one out of all of this and she most certainly did not deserve to die like that. I'm just really sorry for what happened. I apologise to the families, they might not accept that but I do and I mean that from my heart – it was a tragic accident that was never meant to happen."
Double murder trial defendant Niall Smith