Inquiry into rapist's death blaze 'should not be a witch hunt'

Michael McHugh,Press Association
Friday 11 December 2009 15:08

A public inquiry into how a convicted sex offender was able to kill himself and his family in a deliberate house fire should not become a witch hunt, social workers warned today.

Stormont's health committee is considering calling for a public probe into alleged failings in how the authorities managed double rapist Arthur McElhill before he torched the family home in Omagh, County Tyrone.

A coroner ruled this week that the 36-year-old heavy drinking depressive, who was abusing a teenage babysitter in the months before the fire and had a history of suicide attempts, doused the hallway of the Lammy Crescent terraced house with petrol and lit it when his partner Lorraine McGovern, 29, threatened to leave him.

Lesley McDowell, chairman of the British Association of Social Workers in Northern Ireland (BASW), said: "BASW doesn't feel that the public inquiry should be used as a witch hunt looking to blame certain professions but rather as an exercise to look at where failings or shortfalls occurred and to decide on measures that will improve the service offered and prevent a similar tragedy happening again.

"Lessons need to be learned from this tragedy and a public inquiry is needed to highlight them."

The couple and their five young children all died in the inferno in November 2007.

Yesterday health minister Michael McGimpsey said he had asked the author of a report into the tragedy to confirm recommendations he made have been implemented.

Henry Toner QC criticised how different agencies communicated information about the type of man McElhill was.

His review made 63 recommendations in 2008 and Mr Toner has been asked to verify they have now been implemented.

The Western Health Trust has implemented 54 of its 55 recommendations.

Other recommendations were made for a range of agencies including the Department of Health and the PSNI.