Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey murder trial begins

Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey died at their remote cottage near Tassagh

The trial has begun of four brothers accused of a double murder in County Armagh seven years ago.

Martin, Niall, Christopher and Stephen Smith are all accused of the murders of Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey at their remote cottage near Tassagh.

A prosecuting barrister outlined the case against them at Armagh Crown Court.

He said the brothers had wanted to punish Thomas O'Hare for something he had done years before.

In April 1998, Mr O'Hare pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting three young boys in the late 1980s.

At the time, Mr O'Hare would have been about 17.

The barrister said the prosecution case would be that on the night of the murders the four brothers, all masked and carrying sledgehammers, burst into the home Mr O'Hare shared with Ms McClatchey.

He said they beat Mr O'Hare, then doused the house with petrol and set it alight.

He gave an account of the night in question and the terrible injuries suffered by the couple, who died days later.

The Smith brothers too suffered burns that night. The prosecution will say this was in the same incident.

'Hysterics'

Outlining the events of that night in detail, the barrister said a neighbour of Mr O'Hare's, Seamus Loughran, had heard a very loud banging on his door around 21:00 GMT.

His daughter had opened the door, then slammed it shut again "in hysterics".

Mr Loughran said he heard a voice outside shouting 'Tom's still in the house'. He asked if that was Lisa and she said it was.

Mr Loughran went outside and found Lisa with no top on and her trousers "almost burned off her".

Her hair had been burned off and she was unable to see. She asked Mr Loughran to take her trousers off as the belt was burning her.

Ms McClatchey's family sat in the public gallery as this evidence was outlined.

Mr Loughran called the emergency services and went to find Mr O'Hare. He also had no top on when Mr Loughran found him.

His face was "unrecognisable and covered with blood".

Other neighbours quickly arrived on the scene and tried to help, the prosecution barrister said.

All recall Ms McClatchey, who remained conscious throughout, describing what had happened as "five or six masked men burst into the house, shouted at Thomas that he was a paedophile, beat him, then sprayed the place with petrol and set it alight".

'Car accident'

The pair were taken to hospital, but died a number of days later. Both had suffered 80% burns, half of those described as "'full thickness".

The barrister said that, on the night in question, Mr O'Hare and Ms McClatchey had not been the only ones on their way to hospital with burns as the four Smith brother were also burned.

They presented themselves at hospital in Dundalk, telling staff they had been in a car accident.

They arrived in a silver Mercedes and a dark green Mondeo. The following day, the men's father had sold his green Mondeo for scrap.

The silver Mercedes, meanwhile, was seized and searched, revealing clothing that the prosecution claimed could be forensically linked to the fire and, among other things, a receipt for the purchase of four balaclavas in a Dublin shop two weeks earlier.

The court was told that up to 75 litres (15 gallons) of petrol was used in the attack and that the resulting explosion dislodged roof timbers in the house and blew off the back door.

Summing up, the prosecution barrister said: "We will submit to you that the evidence of the fire, the arrival of the defendants at hospital with burn injuries and the connections between what they were wearing and what was discarded at the scene make an overwhelming case that these four defendants were all inside that house when the petrol that they had distributed was ignited; that the pouring of petrol throughout the house and over Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey followed the deliberate and brutal beating of Thomas O'Hare with hammers.

"The petrol and the hammers had been taken there as part of what the prosecution will submit was a planned operation for which the balaclavas had been bought a fortnight previously.

"In doing what they did, the defendants must have intended, at the very least, to cause Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey really serious harm.

"We will submit, however, that the evidence suggests that the intention was, in fact, to kill."

The case continues.

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