Sex-offender dad remains at the heart of blaze probe — (The Independent)

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The Independent

Friday November 16 2007

THE father of the family murdered in a house fire in Omagh remained at the centre of police inquiries last night although he has not been officially declared the prime suspect.

The PSNI insisted yesterday that detectives were investigating seven murders, including the death of the father, Arthur McElhill.

Mr McElhill, a convicted sex offender, his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five children perished in the blaze at their home in Lammy Crescent on Tuesday.

The tragic father was known to have been suffering from depression and one of the main lines of inquiry being pursued by investigators was that he had doused the first floor in petrol before setting it alight.

The PSNI said officially that at this stage no one had been declared a suspect.

The seven bodies were taken from the ruins of their home yesterday for post-mortem examinations and the results will form a key part of the probe.

Forensic tests in the burnt-out shell have already indicated that petrol was sprinkled inside the house and this led to a new line of investigation for the police.

Neighbours said yesterday that Mr McElhill had been on medication for his depression.

Reports from some residents of a row between Mr McElhill and his partner prior to the fire are being checked out by detectives.

Officers are understood not to be examining any possible links between the fire and Mr McElhill’s two previous convictions for sexual assault.

The Courts Service of Northern Ireland confirmed that he was convicted of indecent assault of a female at Omagh Crown Court on April 21 1998 and sentenced to three years imprisonment. The offence took place on September 27 1996.

The conviction would have resulted in Mr McElhill being placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register.

It also emerged that he had previously been convicted of a similar offence in 1993. But he was considered to be in the lowest risk category. Police said the post-mortem examinations would take place over the coming days while the house would continue to be examined by detectives.

Police said the post-mortem examinations would take place over the coming days while the house would continue to be examined by detectives.

Behind the screened-off ruins, the forensic investigators are carrying out a detailed search of the rubble.

Police are also checking out claims by neighbours that Mr McElhill made no real effort to escape the blaze. as he stood at an upstairs window.

One neighbour said : “He must weigh 16 stone and he could easily have put his fist through that window. But he didn’t. He didn’t do a thing”.