Belfast Telegraph

House of horrors that neighbours were ready to tear down at dead of night

By Adrian Rutherford

Residents have threatened to demolish a house where a family perished in Northern Ireland’s worst blaze.

The charred remains of the family home which Arthur McElhill torched, killing himself, his partner and their five young children, are still standing — three years on from the horror blaze.

Residents in Omagh have demanded that the house at Lammy Crescent — which overlooks a primary school — is demolished, but little progress has been made.

According to people in the town, some families have been so traumatised by the building that they have since left the area.

Ahead of the third anniversary of the fire tomorrow, one community worker in the town said knocking down the house was vital to get closure on the tragedy.

Kieran Gallagher said threats by people to demolish the shell themselves showed their anger.

“That feeling was coming across in the aftermath of the fire — and that resentment is still there,” he said. “As long as the house still stands, it will serve as a reminder to the community.”

One resident whose children pass by Lammy Crescent said people wanted the house demolished immediately.

“It’s got to the stage where some people would happily take it apart themselves — brick by brick,” he said. “The house serves no purpose. It’s just a reminder of what happened.”

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the blaze in which McElhill killed himself, his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five young children after setting fire to the family home.

Last December a coroner ruled McElhill had deliberately torched the house after Lorraine threatened to leave him.

Its blackened walls are a gruesome reminder of the horror which took place in the early hours of November 13, 2007.

The house is owned by McElhill’s brother-in-law. It is understood an offer from the Housing Executive to purchase the property has still not been accepted.

However, it is believed the McElhill family do not oppose demolition of the property.

St Connor’s Primary School — attended by some of the McElhill children — is behind the house.

Mr Gallagher, who works with the OmaWest community group, said anger was growing about the property’s future.

“The fact that the house is still there is not helping people,” he added. “People have actually left the area because of it. It would be far better for the house to be knocked down and taken away.

“There was a feeling at one stage where some people were ready to turn up in the middle of the night and knock it down. That feeling is still there because nothing has been done.”

SDLP councillor Josephine Deehan said she was aware of one family who moved out because they were traumatised by the house. “This house is a very painful reminder of a traumatic and tragic event which is still in the minds of people living in and around Lammy Crescent,” she said.

In a statement, the Housing Executive said it was actively seeking to resolve the matter.

“The Housing Executive is keen to progress this matter as quickly and sensitively as possible,” a spokesman said. “We have put proposals to purchase the property to the owner’s legal representatives. We are awaiting agreement on this.”

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