Child ‘opened door to neighbour on fire’

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A Lurgan man is one of four brothers facing double murder charges at Armagh Crown Court this week.

The jury heard how a severely burned woman called out to her neighbour for help “in desperation”.

Giving evidence on Thursday at the Armagh Crown Court trial of four brothers accused of double murder, neighbour Seamus Loughran described how, in November 2006, he heard a “loud banging” at his home on the Foley Road, near Tassagh, in Co Armagh.

His daughter Alana, who was just 11-years-old at the time, opened the front door - but immediately “slammed it shut” and burst into hysterics “screaming,” he told the jury.

Mr Loughran recounted how his daughter told him there was someone outside “covered in blood” and that he was so alarmed he locked the doors to his home.

After calling out through a window, he said he heard a “scary voice,” like the person was “in desperation” and when he opened the door, he was confronted by a half naked and severely burnt Lisa McClatchey.

Mr Loughran told prosecuting QC Toby Hedworth that Lisa had said to him that “five or six masked men came into the house and I don’t know if she said they beat her - or they beat her and Tom, and she said that they called him a ‘f****** paedophile’.”

The four Smith brothers - Martin, 40 and from Kevlin Glen near Omagh, Niall, 37 and from Mourneview Park in Lurgan, Christopher, 33, and Stephen, 31, both from Mourneview in Mowhan - all deny the couples’ murders and arson with intent to endanger life in November 2006.

The jury of six men and six women have already heard it is the Crown case that in revenge for sexual abuse against Stephen Smith in the late 80’s and early 90’s, they attacked Thomas with sledgehammers in his home on the Foley Road and then, set it on fire.

Although they were attacked on 6 November, Thomas did not die until 10 November and his 21-year-old partner survived until 15 November before she succumbed to her injuries.

On Thursday, Mr Loughran said he had known Thomas for most of his life and although he knew that his neighbour had admitted sexually abusing three boys, including Stephen Smith, “it never caused me or my family any problems”.

Turning to the night of the incident, he told Mr Hedworth that Lisa’s main concern was that the bungalow was on fire with “Tom still inside”.

She was naked from the waist up, he told the jury, and described how her jeans had been burnt away from her legs making them “look like hot pants” and he added, that she asked him to take her belt off because it was so hot “it was burning into her”.

“She was saying that she couldn’t see, she couldn’t see the pain she was in,” he told the jury.

Mr Loughran said he left Lisa in the bathroom of his home and ran towards his neighbour’s house, noticing that Thomas’ house was on fire with “flames coming out of the roof.”

As he ran, he called Thomas O’Hare’s name and heard a “muffled voice”.

That voice, the jury heard, was coming from O’Hare, lying on his back half naked, covered in blood and despite knowing him for most of his life, even Mr Loughran found it “difficult to recognise him”.

“He was in a bad condition,” he told the lawyer. “His face seemed to be covered in blood and there were marks on his upper body.”

Thomas was in a “semi conscious” state and Mr Loughran said he reassured him to “stick with it, the ambulance is coming”.

Other neighbours arrived on the scene and leaving his stricken neighbour with them, Mr Loughran ran back to his own house where he got a dressing gown for Lisa and fetched sheets and blankets for Thomas.

Working together, the men managed to get Thomas lifted into a sheet and using it as a stretcher, carried him back to Mr Loughran’s house.

One of those men, another neighbour Patrick Toner also gave evidence on Thursday morning, telling the jury how he and his father had been in a field feeding horses when they spotted the blaze.

Rushing to the scene, Mr Toner said they found Thomas lying in the road calling for help, shouting in fear “Who is it? Who is it?,” and that he could “smell burning and the smell of petrol” coming from him.

Asked by Mr Hedworth if Thomas said anything about the attack, he told the lawyer that Thomas said “three or four boys had come in an attacked him” and that the house had been “doused in petrol”.

The trial continues.