Sex offender started death blaze after partner threatened to leave

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A convicted sex offender killed himself and six other family members in a house fire because his long-time partner had threatened to leave him, a coroner ruled today.

Heavy-drinking depressive Arthur McElhill, 36, doused the hallway of the two-storey terrace house in Omagh, County Tyrone, with petrol and white spirit and lit it.

The inferno in Lammy Crescent in November 2007 claimed the lives of his partner, Lorraine McGovern, 29, and their five young children.

On the fourth day of an inquest into the deaths, Northern Ireland Coroner Suzanne Anderson said she was satisfied that the unemployed farm labourer had torched the home after Miss McGovern had threatened to walk out on him.

During the hearings it had been revealed that McElhill had been conducting an illicit sexual relationship with an under-age girl in the months before the fire.

"I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Arthur McElhill and Lorraine McGovern had been up all night and that she was about to leave, taking with her at least some of her children, when the fire was started by Arthur McElhill," said Miss Anderson.

However the coroner said she could not prove conclusively that McElhill had intended to commit suicide, noting that he had broken an upstairs window in an apparent bid to escape the home as the blaze took hold.

After the findings, Mr McElhill's parents released a statement indicating the impact the fire has had on their lives.

"The events of two years ago have devastated and shattered our lives beyond belief," Charles and Patricia McElhill said in a joint statement issued by their lawyer.

"Our pain is immeasurable and it will endure for the rest of our lives.

"We love and miss Arthur, Lorraine and our grandchildren every day. We will always remember them as a happy family."

They also expressed their gratitude to the emergency services and asked for their privacy to be respected and for people to keep both families in their prayers.

Outside Omagh Courthouse, Miss McGovern's parents, Theresa and Kevin, gave their reaction to the findings.

Flanked by other family members, they stood with heads bowed as their solicitor read out their statement.

"We are thankful and relieved that these proceedings have now concluded, which, we trust, will bring us closure on this awful tragedy and enable us get on with our lives.

"We are mindful that the McElhill family have also suffered greatly and we extend to them our sincere sympathy."

They also paid tribute to the firefighters and other emergency services who battled in vain to try to save the family.