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Omagh fire: father prime suspect in investigation

Police in Omagh were today preparing to move into the charred shell of 4 Lammy Crescent to remove the bodies of Arthur McElhill and the family he is suspected of killing.

McElhill is thought to have doused his home in petrol before setting it ablaze leaving a stunned community to ask: Why did he do it?

It is believed that McElhill had been depressed since leaving prison in 1999 where he had served half of a three-year sentence for indecently assaulting a woman.

Funeral directors said they were planning to remove the bodies from the scene this afternoon. A local priest was preparing to conduct a religious service on the street outside the house.

As the close-knit community struggled to come to terms with such an atrocity in their midst, the police were treating McElhill as the chief suspect for the murder of his family in a horrific arson attack.

Neighbours have told how, while the family was regularly seen in the play area, he "kept himself to himself".

Police hunting for clues and waiting for post mortems to be carried out were preparing to remove the seven bodies from the first floor of the family home where they have lain since the fire which destroyed the home at 5am on Tuesday.

The revelation that detectives are treating the tragedy as mass murder stunned the community where Mr McElhill lived with his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five children Caroline (13), James (10), Bellina (4), Clodagh (18 months) and baby James.

As the day dawned, stunned neighbours again woke up to the horror on their doorsteps.

Clergy in the area were arranging for a public service to take place at the scene of the fire as the bodies are removed.

Monsignor Joseph Donnelly said he hoped the move would provide some comfort for the people of the region.

He said: "The service will take place in the main road area and it will be an opportunity for people to congregate and pray for a short while and perhaps also accompany the hearses."

Mgr Donnelly added: "It is difficult enough coping with the tragedy itself, and that has certainly been compounded now with the news that police are following a murder inquiry.

"There is just a stunned silence. This has left people at a total loss for words. They are trying to come to terms with it as best they can.

"Because Omagh has been visited with tragedy before, there is a sense of reliving the past and it is a very, very difficult time for the whole community."

Staff at St Conor's Primary School, situated next to the destroyed family home, today returned to school.

Pupils, however, were not expected to be in.

Independent Omagh Councillor and former firefighter John McGowan spoke of the silence hanging in the air over Omagh.

"It has just gone from shock to shock to aftershock. There is a stillness in the whole town.

"People haven't come to terms with what is happening.

"They don't know whether they are coming or going.

"In the first incident we had a tragic fire and then the circumstances seemed to change, and then change again, for the worse."

Funeral directors tasked with overseeing preparations for the burials said it could be several days before the family are laid to rest.

Omagh funeral director J Maguire said he was expecting to be called upon to collect the bodies this afternoon.

He added: "We are hoping to remove the bodies some time today, but the situation being as it is though it could be a few days before there are any funeral arrangements.

"The murder inquiry could be ongoing so there is no way of saying what day or when the funerals will take place."

He added: "They will have to do post-mortems but that will definitely not be today."

A second funeral director, Jim Barnett, who has a base at Arthur McElhill's native Ederney in County Fermanagh, has also been tasked to oversee the funeral arrangements.

Speaking about the possible date for the burial, he said: "In the circumstances I would say that it would be Saturday at the earliest."

Omagh community worker Gerry McCusker said that the tragedy had affected everyone, and that people would have been getting out of bed this morning, " wondering what Thursday has in store".

More bouquets, teddies and cards were left overnight at the scene of the tragedy, including a floral arrangement shaped like a teddy bear.

Another, bearing a picture of Caroline, said: "None of us have anything left of you apart from all of our memories together. They will never be forgotten. RIP pet."

Belfast Telegraph

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