Suicide-Killings Take Lives Of 10 – Social Services To Tackle ‘Dangerous Parents’

Social services on both sides of the Border are to review their care of children in danger from depressive or psychotic parents, after the fire deaths of the family in Omagh last week brought the number of children killed in domestic “homicide-suicides” in Ireland this year to 10.

The Omagh case is reminiscent of the case in Wexford in April when Adrian Dunne killed his wife, Ciara, and children Leanne, 5, and Shania, 3.

Dunne was displaying signs of becoming an increasing threat to his family.

He also visited an undertaker in New Ross to make arrangements for his family’s funeral the day before he strangled his wife and smothered the two girls.

Dunne’s behaviour was reported to the gardai and Health Service but there was no attempt to take the children or Leanne into care.

In the Omagh case it has emerged that Arthur McElhill was a violent sex offender with two convictions for aggravated sexual assault.

He was one of the first men to be placed on the North’s Sex Offender list following assaults on a 17-year-old girl in Omagh in 1993 and another on another 17-year-old in Co Fermanagh, following his release from prison in 1996.

After the second assault, for which he received a five-year prison term he was placed on the offenders’ list.

Under the North’s prison 50 per cent parole regime, McEhill served just over two years in jail.

However, it appeared that there was no social services or policing mechanism for intervening once he began his relationship with Lorraine McGovern after he was released from jail.

McElhill was said in court to have been drunk when he carried out the sexual assaults on the teenagers and it is strongly believed he was drinking before he threw petrol over his partner and the five children and set them alight.

Contrary to early reports, it gradually emerged during the week that McElhill was far from the hard-working caring parental figure that was initially portrayed.

He was described by one local man as a “control freak prone to drunken rages”.

While there were reports of a “row” at the house on Sunday night, the PSNI said yesterday they received no call to the house and did not investigate any complaint prior to the fire.

It appears McElhill doused his family in petrol then threw the can from a window before starting the blaze.

It was the worst case of a domestic “homicide-suicide” in recent history.

In the 1980s, a farmer in Co Derry shot dead his wife and four children before killing himself.

The recent increase in the killing of children by parents has raised concerns on both sides of the Border, with the North’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, calling for better protection mechanisms.

The Commission is also concerned that there is no system in place for exchanging information about sex offenders or suspected offenders between the garda and PSNI and between social services on either side of the Border.

There has been a marked increase in the number of domestic “homicide-suicides” this year, with a total of 10 children — aged from eight months to 13 years — killed by parents.

This excludes the case of 46-year-old Cavan native Thomas O’Reilly, who drowned his daughters, Megan, 6, and Kelly, 5, in the bath their home in New Jersey before hanging himself last June.

In January, Eileen Murphy (26) from Cork jumped from the Cliffs of Moher while holding her son, Evan, 4.

In May, Caitriona Innes, also 26, killed her seven-year-old daughter, Caitlin, then committed suicide at her home in Letterkenny.

Nollaig Owen drowned herself and her infant son in Douglas River near her home in Kilworth, Co Cork, in July.

Another young mother, Madeleine O’Neill, killed her nine-year-old daughter, Lara, before committing suicide at their home in Carryduff, Co Antrim in July.

The children who died in Omagh were Caroline, 13, Sean, 7, Belina, 4, Clodagh (18 months) and James (10 months).

Meanwhile in September 2005, Sharon Grace from Barntown, Co Wexford, drowned herself and her two daughters, Mikahla, 4, and Abby, 3.

The last incident involving fathers killing children occurred over five years ago.

Stephen Byrne murdered his wife, Maeve, at their home in Kilkenny before driving off Duncannon Pier in Wexford with his two sons, Alan, 10, and Shane, 6.

In August 2001 Christopher Crowley, who had been in hiding with his daughter, Deirdre, 6, suffocated the children before committing suicide, also in Wexford.