Four brothers guilty of manslaughter over Northern Ireland fire

Tuesday 03 December 2013 16.47
Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey died in the fire at a house near Keady, Co Armagh
Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey died in the fire at a house near Keady, Co Armagh

Four brothers who torched the home of a convicted sex offender and his girlfriend in Northern Ireland seven years ago have been found guilty of manslaughter.

Martin Smith, 40, from Kelvin Glen near Omagh, and Niall, 37, Christopher, 33, and 31-year-old Stephen Smith, all from the Mourneview estate in Clady, were found guilty of manslaughter.

The brothers, who had consistently denied murdering Thomas O'Hare, 33, and Lisa McClatchey, 21, were also found guilty of attempted arson.

The jury at Armagh Crown Court took almost seven hours to reach its unanimous verdict.

The foreman told the court that all four men had been found not guilty of double murder but were guilty of the couple's manslaughter.

The foreman also said the jury were all agreed that the brothers were not guilty of arson but convicted them of attempted arson.

Mr Justice Weatherup said the men would be sentenced at a later date. 

Mr O'Hare and Ms McClatchey died after being attacked at their home in Tassagh, near Keady, Co Armagh in November 2006.

Mr O'Hare was beaten with hammers before the house was sprayed with petrol and set alight.

During the four-week trial it emerged that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mr O'Hare had sexually abused Stephen Smith, the youngest of the brothers, when he was around eight years old.

The court heard how the brothers hatched their plan after Stephen Smith saw his abuser driving in and out of the housing estate where his family lived during the summer of 2006.

They claimed they were concerned Mr O'Hare would sexually abuse their children.

The case has taken seven years to get to court because the brothers went on the run.

An hour after the fatal fire, four men appeared at a hospital in Co Louth with critical burns.

They were later transferred for specialist treatment in Dublin.

Martin Smith was arrested by gardaí in Dundalk while Niall Smith was detained in north Dublin.

He had been put into an induced coma for over two weeks and told the court during the trial he was devastated when he woke up to learn that the couple had died.

Christopher Smith was arrested in England while Stephen Smith was extradited from Sydney, Australia in March.

The public gallery in Armagh court house was packed with family members and supporters of both victims and defendants.

There was a tense atmosphere with uniformed police officers posted both inside and outside.

Before the jury was brought back from its deliberations Judge Weatherup warned those in the gallery that he did not want any emotional outbursts.

He said: "I do not want any scenes in the court. Please remember we are here because two people died. The families of those two people are present. There will be no victories."

He also warned members of the public not to try to intimidate the jury if they disagreed with their verdict.

The brothers, who denied the double murder, had claimed they wanted to burn the couple's house at Foley Road close to Keady in an attempt to force Mr O'Hare out of the area.

Their defence teams claimed killing either victim was never part of the plan.

But days after the attack Mr O'Hare and Ms McClatchey succumbed to multiple organ failure as a result of the serious burns which covered 80% of their bodies.

There were emotional scenes outside the court as relatives of both the defendants and victims cried and clutched each other for support.

Molly Smith, the brothers' mother, said she was relieved the case had ended.

"I am just glad it's all over and it can now bring peace to the three families and we can all now move on. God bless everyone."

Relatives of Ms McClatchey declined to comment.