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Omagh blaze: failings found

By Deborah McAleese

An inquiry into circumstances surrounding the deaths of a family of seven in a house fire in Omagh has found a number of failings by the health and social services organisations involved in their care.

The agencies involved in the care and risk assessment of Arthur McElhill, his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five children were today accused of not following "competent professional practice" in the weeks running up to their horrific death. The Childrens' Commissioner today hit out at the agencies involved.

Click here for our special report on the Omagh blaze

Arthur McElhill (39), his partner Lorraine McGovern (30), and their five children, Caroline (13), Sean (7), Bellina (4), Clodagh (19 months) and James, who was nine months old, were all killed in the blaze at Lammy Crescent in November.

A police investigation into the blaze, which detectives are treating as murder, continues. It is believed Mr McElhill, a convicted sex offender being monitored by the authorities at the time, scattered petrol around the house and set it alight.

An Independent Review Panel was appointed by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey in January to examine the response of all health and social services organisations the family had come into contact with.

Although the findings, released today, concluded that the agencies involved with the family had no indication "the tragic event" was about to occur, a number of weaknesses were found in the care provided by health and social services agencies.

The report states that practices and interventions in the case were " extremely weak and poorly managed".

The review panel also found weaknesses in the system which permitted a teenage girl, who was not a relation, to live with the McElhill/McGovern family for several months prior to their deaths despite Mr McElhill's previous convictions for sex attacks on teenage girls.

A number of deficits were found in the risk assessment and care planning of the family including deficiencies in:

  • the communication of information between all agencies in respect of the criminal offences committed by Arthur McElhill
  • dissemination of that information within disciplines of the trust and other agencies and assessment of potential risks posed by Arthur McElhill to teenage girls
  • good practice and management within the disciplines of the trust and other agencies.

Discussing the weeks leading up to the blaze the report states that " competent professional practice was not followed in a number of instances particularly in responding to concerns raised and referrals made, conducting assessments, risk assessments and working with other disciplines and agencies.

"The professional practices of the relevant social workers were not adequately monitored, supported or challenged by senior staff and the case files were not adequately examined and monitored during this period."

A total of 63 recommendations have been made to address the shortcomings.

Health and Social Services Minister Michael McGimpsey said that while the report concludes there is no evidence that anyone working with the family could have known the fire would happen, there is "absolutely no doubt that there were failings on the part of health and social services."

He added that he wants to see immediate action taken to address "the deficits which have come to light".

The report shows that Arthur McElhill suffered from depression and had made a number of suicide attempts in the 1980s.

Two weeks before the fire Caroline contacted police to report a domestic violence incident between her parents.

Police responded immediately but did not check on Mr McElhill.

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