Belfast Telegraph

Skin of fire attack victim seemed to run down her face, woman tells court

By Paul Higgins

A murder victim was so badly burnt her skin appeared to be running down her face, a jury has heard.

Elizabeth Lavery told a court that when she saw Lisa McClatchey "she was really badly burned; her whole face... the skin was just like running off her face".

Seven years ago this month, 21-year-old Lisa and her boyfriend Thomas O'Hare were attacked in his home on Foley Road outside the village of Tassagh, Co Armagh.

Four brothers – Martin, Niall, Christopher and Stephen Smith – are accused of their murders.

The jury has already been told that a gang of masked men forced their way into the rural bungalow and attacked Thomas with sledgehammers before dousing the property in petrol and setting it alight.

Ms McClatchey and Mr O'Hare were fatally injured in the blaze.

It is the Crown case that the four Smith brothers launched the attack in revenge for the sexual abuse Stephen Smith suffered in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the hands of Mr O'Hare. All four deny the murders and arson with intent to endanger life in November 2006.

Giving tearful evidence yesterday, Mrs Lavery, a sister of the murdered man, told prosecuting lawyer Robin Steer that despite being in obvious pain, Lisa recounted to her how the gang kept saying "paedophile, paedophile" before they "beat us up and put us on fire".

She said that when she saw her brother, his hand was "quite black" and that she went with him in the ambulance.

Pausing to gain control of her emotions, Mrs Lavery told the Armagh Crown Court jury that at one stage in the ambulance "I thought Thomas had died" because he was not responding.

"I just said, 'Hang in there, keep going' but he didn't respond," she said.

Under cross-examination, Mrs Lavery denied that what she had heard both that night and in the time before she made her statement a week later had influenced her account, telling defence QC Karen Quinlivin that what Lisa told her "will live in my head until the day I die".

The jury also heard from a Constable Lipsit who told them how he was struck by how calm Lisa was when he spoke to her as she was being treated.

"I remember telling her that her medical attention is the priority here," said the officer. He added that when he asked Lisa if she knew what had happened, "she told me she could remember absolutely everything".

Lisa told him, said Mr Lipsit, that five or six masked men, two of whom had sledgehammers, had come into the house, shouted that Mr O'Hare was a convicted paedophile, started beating him and then "poured petrol over Tommy, over the house and us".

He told the jury that while taking that initial account, "I didn't believe for a moment that this would be the last time she would give an account".

"I remember specifically afterwards thinking she would be sitting down over a period of time going through what happened," said the officer. He admitted there were things he didn't ask her that he wished he had.

Under cross-examination, Mr Lipsit said that for him it was more important to have allowed Lisa to give her account in her own time rather than interrupting.

He accepted that when he radioed through to communications, he did not mention that the men had sledgehammers or were wearing masks.

But he told the court that what he wanted to do was to make other officers aware that up to six people "were responsible for the incident".

The trial continues.

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