Belfast Telegraph

Police urge arsonist to 'do the right thing' after blaze deaths

By Adrian Rutherford

Police investigating an arson attack which killed an elderly widow and her 38-year-old daughter have appealed for the culprit to search their conscience and come forward.

Betty (71) and Deirdre McGirr died when the inferno swept through a top-floor flat in the Dunlea Vale estate in Dungannon on Saturday night.

Yesterday, a senior detective confirmed that the horrific blaze had been started deliberately.

Detective Chief Inspector Gareth Talbot said whoever was responsible may not have meant to hurt the women, and told them to “do the right thing”.

Police have ruled out Deirdre’s 36-year-old Portuguese boyfriend, Jose, who escaped without injury, as a suspect in their inquiries.

Shocked neighbours said that they had no idea why Betty and Deirdre, described by friends as “two beautiful people”, had been targeted.

One man who knew Betty for many years said he was stunned by the development.

“Nobody can believe this news,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “Why would anyone want to kill such a lovely old lady?”

Speaking at a press conference in Dungannon, DCI Talbot refused to say if it was being treated as a double murder inquiry, adding that police were keeping “an open mind”.

However, the detective confirmed that the fatal blaze was malicious. “We now believe this fire was deliberate and we are working to ascertain the exact details of what happened,” he added.

Betty McGirr was visiting her daughter when the inferno ripped through the flat at around 10pm.

Three other apartments in the building were empty at the time.

Police refused to confirm how the fire started, except to say that it began at the rear of the premises. However, sources close to the investigation said that they believed the blaze was started inside the building.

“We are keeping an open mind as to motive or reasoning behind the fire,” said DCI Talbot.

In a direct appeal to the killer, DCI Talbot urged them to come forward. “It may not have been your intention to hurt anyone, or things may have got out of control,” he added.

“I would ask you to search your conscience, consider the feelings of the McGirr family — please let them have some kind of closure around this and come forward to us and tell us what happened.

“It is not too late to do the right thing.”

Chief Inspector Jane Humphries, who is area commander in Dungannon, said the community has been devastated by deaths of Deirdre and Betty.

“We would like to reassure the community that we are doing everything in our power to find out exactly what happened on Saturday night,” she added.

Parish priest Fr Colum Curry said that yesterday’s development was “dreadful news”.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “Death by that form is horrendous, and to think that someone did this deliberately defies reason.”

Sinn Fein councillor Bronwyn McGahan said shock had turned to anger at news the fire had been started deliberately.

“The loss of a mother and daughter is a terrible burden to be inflicted upon a family and my thoughts are with them at this time,” she said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact detectives on 0845 600 8000 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Background

Betty and Deirdre McGirr died in the arson attack on Saturday night. Mrs McGirr (71) previously worked for Edendork Primary School. Her husband, Pat, died in an accident in the 1970s. She had lived in Dunlea Vale for around 30 years. Her daughter, Deirdre, lived in the top-floor flat where the fire took hold, and visited her mother every day. The pair were said to have been very close.

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