Belfast Telegraph

Fermanagh murder: Connie Leonard's disabled son fought with mum's killer Peadar Phair

By Ivan Little

Amid the gentle tranquillity of the green-field countryside just outside the tiny village of Maguiresbridge, the sight of police cordons, white boiler-suited forensic teams and broadcasters' satellite trucks looked strikingly incongruous.

For the intense activity around what's been dubbed the house of horror at Abbey Road was like an intrusion from an altogether more violent world normally associated with Ulster cities and towns - not remote, restful and rural Fermanagh.

But yesterday there was no escaping the grim reality visited upon Connie Leonard's home by a frenzied attack carried out by her ex- partner Peadar Phair - who not only killed her but also tried to murder her disabled son before taking his own life.

And as the Leonard family grieved for the 51-year-old former businesswoman, relatives were at the hospital bedside in Enniskillen of her son Conor who was injured as he tried to save his mother from the clutches of her 55-year-old killer, who some have alleged was an infamous wife-beater in the past.

Conor (30) who has Down's syndrome was hailed a hero for struggling with Phair before he was stabbed by his mother's estranged partner in the stomach.

It's understood that Phair attempted to kill himself but was still alive after Conor managed to raise the alarm - though paramedics were later unable to save the killer.

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At the Leonard family home in the tightly-knit village of Brookeborough, a few miles away from the murder scene, a simple but heart-rending note had been pinned to the front door yesterday.

The handwritten message made no reference to the gruesome circumstances of their loved one's murder.

It simply read: "In your kindness please pray for the repose of the soul of Connie who died yesterday. Wake and funeral arrangements will appear later."

Unsurprisingly there was no mention of Peadar Phair in the note at the terraced house which isn't far from the Brookeborough home of DUP leader and former First Minister Arlene Foster.

Mrs Foster initially sent her condolences to the Leonard family via social media. She described the killing and attempted murder as a tragedy, adding in a tweet: "Thoughts and prayers to the young man who survived. He is, I understand, critical but stable."

Mrs Foster later told the Belfast Telegraph that the whole village of Brookeborough had been plunged into sadness by Phair's brutality.

"Everybody feels this. I couldn't believe it when I heard the news on Monday night."

Mrs Foster said she hoped to be able to express her sympathy to the Leonard family in person later today. She said she knew Conor Leonard from going to a number of functions that he attended in Fermanagh.

"I also met him and his mother quite recently in a coffee shop in Lisnaskea," she revealed.

I can't help thinking about the impact this tragedy is going to have on Conor because he was so attached to his mother. Arlene Foster

Police who had sealed off the area around Abbey Road in Maguiresbridge from Monday night were still carrying out their investigations yesterday.

Forensic teams could be seen inching their way carefully around the large detached house and going in and out of the property, which had been on the market for £195,000.

Estate agents' photographs of the five-bedroomed house at 64 Abbey Road show a comfortable and well-appointed dream home where it's hard to imagine the nightmarish carnage that Peadar Phair mercilessly wreaked on the Leonards after arriving there on Monday evening.

The estate agents described the house as "outstanding" and occupying an "exceptional elevated site with stunning views".

The brochure added: "The lawns are vast and well-kept and the patio area provides a lovely space in which to relax, entertain and unwind."

Police said they weren't looking for anyone else in connection with the murder of Connie Leonard, having quickly established that Phair was the killer.

Neighbours said that Phair and Connie had split up some months ago.

"But he wouldn't take no for an answer," said a woman who knew him. "He was a monster and it was no wonder that Connie wanted rid of him."

On his Facebook page, Phair said he bought and sold mechanical equipment and offered his services as an 'odd job man'.

A short distance away from the Leonard home, at St Mary's Catholic Church in Brookeborough, parish priest Father Lawrence Dawson said "shock waves of sadness had reverberated through the entire area" after news of the murder-suicide broke on Monday. "Those things don't happen here too often," he said.

"It's such a quiet and beautiful area."

Fr Dawson said that he knew Connie well, as a parishioner and as a traditional Irish musician who was an all-Ireland piano-key accordion champion. And he revealed that on St Patrick's Day she had played in a special concert at the church where her funeral will take place.

Fr Dawson said: "It was a very beautiful and joyous occasion. Connie was part of a group of musicians in the church that day and that's how I will remember her. I thank God for what she did with her life even though she has been cut down in her prime."

The murder victim's father Dinny Leonard is a well-known Irish traditional musician and teacher, who three years ago released a CD of songs and tunes called Between the Hills, recorded by his family and pupils.

On the album, Connie played a number of pieces which she performed 30 years ago to win two all-Ireland titles.

Local branches of the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann paid tribute to Connie, who had taken over a number of the classes which her father had once conducted in the area.

Conor Leonard was also an enthusiastic musician.

Fr Dawson said: "He's a very good drummer. He's always been very close to his mother.

"They were very much a team. When you saw one you invariably saw the other."

Friends said Connie was extremely proud of her son and she posted photographs of him on her Facebook page after he took part in a charity Strictly Come Dancing competition.

Connie's brother Fergal is a high ranking fire officer in Fermanagh.

And in his role as a Fire Service Group Commander he appeared on television last week to voice concern about the growing number of deliberate gorse fires in Fermanagh.

"He never imagined back then that his family would be making the news this week," said a colleague.

Fergal Leonard and his family have been visited by the parish priest, Father Dawson who said: "I talked to them at length and while they're finding it difficult to take it all in, they said they were consoled by the fact that they had such wonderful memories of the good times with Connie.

"They are a family of great faith which they say gives them the courage to go ahead otherwise life for them would be almost impossible.

"They told me they would leave everything in God's hands because He was in charge. There was no sense of anger or vengeance."

Former SDLP Assemblyman Richie McPhillips went to school with Phair and knows the Leonards too.

"Connie ran a cafe here in Lisnaskea for a time and her family are very well respected especially in traditional music circles. Dinny has for long been a prominent figure throughout the island of Ireland.

"Everyone knew Conor too. He was a very keen musician, a lovely lad, and we are all praying that he makes a speedy recovery. I know his family and the whole community here will rally round him.

"He will very obviously miss his mother and he will also have to live with the memory of what he witnessed on Monday night. That is not going to leave him."

Mr McPhillips said he understood Phair had been working away from Fermanagh for a number of years.

"But I saw him back here a while back, though I didn't know too much about him."

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