Fireball deaths: Four brothers who torched Co Armagh home of sex offender and his girlfriend guilty of manslaughter
Four brothers who torched the Co Armagh home of a sex offender and his 21-year-old girlfriend seven years ago have been found guilty of manslaughter.
Niall, Martin, Christopher and Stephen Smith were unanimously found guilty by a jury at Armagh Crown Court in Northern Ireland.
The brothers, who had consistently denied murdering Thomas O'Hare, 33, and Lisa McClatchey were also found guilty of attempted arson.
The jury of six men and six women took almost seven hours to reach its verdict.
None of the brothers, who stood with their hands clasped in the dock, showed any emotion as the foreman told the court that all four had been found not guilty of double murder but were guilty of the couple's manslaughter.
The foreman also said the jury were all agreed that the brothers were not guilty of arson but convicted them of attempted arson.
Judge Mr Justice Weatherup said the men would be sentenced at a later date and ordered that they be taken to the cells.
Discharging the jurors and excusing them for life, Judge Weatherup said: "This has been a long matter, a complicated matter and a difficult matter."
Mr O'Hare and Ms McClatchey died after being attacked at their home in Tassagh, near Keady, Co Armagh in November 2006.
Mr O'Hare was beaten with hammers before the house was sprayed with petrol and set alight.
During the four-week trial it emerged that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s aged 17, Mr O'Hare had sexually abused Stephen Smith, the youngest of the brothers, when he was around eight years old.
The court heard how the brothers hatched their plan after Stephen Smith saw his abuser driving in and out of the housing estate where his family lived during the summer of 2006.
They claimed they were concerned Mr O'Hare would sexually abuse their children.
The case has taken seven years to get to court because the brothers went on the run.
An hour after the fatal fire, four men appeared at a hospital across the Irish border in Co Louth with critical burns and were later transferred for specialist treatment in Dublin.
Martin Smith of Kevlin Glen in Omagh was arrested by gardai in Dundalk while Naill Smith from Mourneview Park, in Lurgan was detained in north Dublin.
He had been put into an induced coma for over two weeks and told the court during the trial he was devastated when he woke up to learn that the couple had died.
Christopher Smith from Mourneview in Mowhan was arrested in England while Stephen Smith, of the same address was extradited from Sydney, Australia in March.
The public gallery in Armagh court house was packed with family members and supporters of both victims and defendants.
There was a tense atmosphere with uniformed police officers posted both inside and outside courtroom number three.
Before the jury was brought back from their deliberations Judge Weatherup warned those in the gallery that he did not want any emotional outbursts.
He said: "I do not want any scenes in the court. Please remember we are here because two people died.
"The families of those two people are present.
"There will be no victories."
The judge also warned members of the public not to try and intimidate the jury if they disagreed with their verdict.
The brothers, who denied the double murder, had claimed they wanted to burn the couple's house at Foley Road close to Keady in an attempt to force Mr O'Hare out of the area. Their defence teams claimed killing either victims was never part of the plan.
But days after the attack Mr O'Hare and Ms McClatchey succumbed to multiple organ failure as a result of the serious burns which covered 80% of their bodies.
Outside there were emotional scenes as relatives of both the defendants and victims cried and clutched eachother for support.
Molly Smith, the brothers' mother said she was relieved the case had ended.
"I am just glad it's all over and it can now bring peace to the three families and we can all now move on. God bless everyone."
Relatives of Lisa McClatchey declined to comment afterwards.
Niall Smith is 38, Martin is 41, Christopher is 33, and Stephen is 31.
The blaze happened near Tassagh, a rural part of Co Armagh.
A spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) serious crime branch said the victims' families were robbed of their loved ones in horrendous circumstances.
He said detectives began the investigation more than seven years ago and along with the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) persevered to bring the four Smith brothers from the Republic, England and Australia to face a court in Northern Ireland and answer for their crimes.
"No one has the right to take the law into their own hands, regardless of any perceived threat, provocation or injustice," he said.
"Police will continue to work with law enforcement partners here and in other jurisdictions to protect individuals and communities in Northern Ireland. We would encourage everyone to work with us."
The brothers will have to wait until the new year to find out how long they will spend in jail.
Judge Weatherup called for pre-sentence reports. He said the process normally took six weeks but was likely to be longer because of Christmas.
"We will arrange a date for sentencing when the courts are available," said the judge.
Belfast Telegraph Digital