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Family's lucky escape as torched car guts house in early morning arson attack

By Angela Rainey

Published 07/04/2016

Cecil and Barbara Williamson yesterday
Cecil and Barbara Williamson yesterday
Alan Lewis - 6/4/2016
Marc, who was killed in 2011

A Co Armagh couple have been left homeless following an arson attack, five years after their son was murdered.

Cecil and Barbara Williamson, both 65, and other son Robert-David (30) narrowly escaped with their lives after a blazing car was deliberately pushed against their home in Richhill yesterday.

The couple said they were still grieving for their son Marc (21), who was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack in Portadown five years ago this summer.

The flames engulfed the couple's oil tank, which exploded. The fire then spread to the Elm Park house within a matter of seconds.

The family awoke in a panic and tried to escaped barefoot, attempting to rescue their exotic pet birds in the process.

"It was Robert-David's day off, but he had taken on an extra shift at work as overtime," said Barbara, who was left in shock.

"He was in the bathroom brushing his teeth when he heard a bang. He looked out the window and saw his car was on fire.

"He shouted up and came and got us up. Him and his daddy tried to put the fire out and I rang the fire brigade. When he came down he could see that petrol had been poured over his car.

"When I saw it, it was only the car burning, but within seconds the house went up. Whoever did it pushed the car against the kitchen door because it wasn't parked there."

More than 50 residents were evacuated from their homes as the flames burned through an adjoining fence, damaging a neighbour's home and windows.

A back fence belonging to an elderly lady also caught fire, forcing residents and emergency crews to evacuate a second row of houses.

"I ran out in my bare feet and tried to waken the man next door," added Mrs Williamson. "There's an oil tank beside his house which we had put 300 litres in. I was rapping all the doors trying to get the people out. It was terrible."

The family have lived in the estate for 11 years. While they may have been singled out by arsonists, they do not believe the attack was linked to their son's death.

"It's a long story, but I've a good idea who is behind this and they got the wrong car," said Mrs Williamson. "I think it was my car they were after, but I moved it because Robert-David was to be out first for work. If Robert-David had not had been going to work, he would have been dead because his whole bed is burnt.

"The house was up in flames, windows breaking and everything, and Robert-David was trying to carry a big bird cage. I just shouted not to worry about them and to get himself out.

"This is a quiet estate. This past week about 3am or 4am there's been cars coming and going, and you wouldn't hear that up here.

"My husband heard a motorbike about 4.30am this morning, then at 5.30am Robert-David's car was on fire. I've lost a son, and I think to myself that I could have lost Robert-David too.

"The world is in an awful state. People who do this, they're sick in the head, aren't they?

"If my granddaughter or grandson had been in there... God help the one that done it... my Cecil and me would have been after them. There's evil people around."

All of the family's belongings have been destroyed, including their furniture, clothes and a water-run computer valued at thousands of pounds belonging to Robert-David, an IT expert.

Barbara's sister-in-law Olive Williamson said: "Barbara's in shock still. She seems calm, but it's shock - it hasn't hit her yet. Whoever did this should get life."

After a visit to the gutted house, Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy urged the public to report those responsible.

"I strongly condemn this disgraceful incident which caused a very serious threat to life," he said.

He also told how the family was "quite understandably shocked and distressed and realise just how close they came to a tragedy".

"This is a quiet residential village, which is in complete shock this morning," he added. "I am thankful the occupants of the house escaped without injury because it is clear that we could have been dealing with fatalities."

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