Brothers sentenced for manslaughter

Published Thursday, 06 March 2014
Comments
Toggle font size
Print

Four brothers who killed a couple after setting fire to their home in a remote area of Co Armagh have been sentenced to a total of more than 40 years in prison.

Brothers sentenced for manslaughter
L-R: Martin, Niall, Christopher and Stephen Smith. (© PSNI/PA)

Niall, Martin, Stephen and Christopher Smith showed no emotion when the sentences were passed for the manslaughters of Thomas O'Hare, 33, and his 21-year old partner Lisa McClatchey.

The couple died after the Smith brothers arrived at their Foley Road home in the Tassagh area of Co Armagh in November 2006.

Wearing balaclavas and armed with cannisters of petrol and a sledgehammer, the four-man gang of brothers poured the flammable liquid around the house before setting it alight.

The Smith brothers stood trial last year at Armagh Crown Court, where a jury found them not guilty of murder but convicted them of the double manslaughter.

They were also acquitted of a charge of arson, but found guilty by a jury of attempted arson.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Justice Weatherup, sitting at Belfast Crown Court, branded the incident as a "kind of vigilantism" and said their actions on the night in question were "wholly unwarranted."

Martin, 41, Christopher, 34, and Stephen Smith, 31, were each handed an 11-year prison sentence followed by a one-year custody probation order.

Niall, 38, will spend ten years in custody with an additional year's custody probation order, as he indicated that he would have admitted to a charge of manslaughter.

During the trial, it emerged that Stephen Smith had been sexually abused by Mr O'Hare when he was eight years old.

The brothers hatched a plan, using a family wake as an excuse for being in the area.

On the evening of 6 November, 2006 they drove to the remote cottage with the intention, they said, to burn the house down in a bid to force Mr O'Hare from the area.

The brothers admitted breaking into the house, attacking Mr O'Hare and setting fire to the property - but said it was never their intention to kill anyone.

All four have since expressed remorse for the deaths of Mr O'Hare and his girlfriend.

Defence barristers for the men pointed out that all four sustained burn injuries in the attack.

One brother was so badly injured that the Last Rites were given in hospital, while another brother spend a period in a medically induced coma.

Mr Justice Weatherup said that while he accepted Stephen Smith had suffered as a result of the abuse he endured by Mr O'Hare, there was "absolutely no excuse" for the brothers to do what they did.

To resort to this sort of conduct will lead to unforeseen consequences, and here we have these unforeseen consequences brought home to the offenders.

Mr Justice Weatherup

The Judge said that after hatching a plan, the Smith brothers embarked on a joint venture and that "each had different roles to play."

Telling the court that he held each man equally responsible, the Judge spoke of the aggravating factors such as the brothers being aware the couple were at home but proceeding to spread the petrol round the house and igniting it, the physical violence used against Mr O'Hare prior to his death, and all four avoiding detection.

Martin was arrested in Dundalk, Co Louth, Niall was extradited from Dublin, Christopher was arrested in England while Stephen was extradited from Australia.

Mr Justice Weatherup also spoke of the impact the deaths of the two victims have had on their families.

He said: "The families of Mr O'Hare and Ms McClatchey value their privacy and do not wish their grief to be aired in public, but what is clear is that both families are distraught by the deaths and by the circumstances of the deaths."

Niall Smith, an accountant from Mourneview Park in Lurgan, was arrested in Dublin.

A defence barrister told the court the plan on the evening in question "was to burn the premises, rather than to target any individual."

She also said that as Mr O'Hare was his friend growing up, who subsequently abused his younger brother, Niall felt guilty and acted as he did due to a "fundamentally misguided sense of responsibility."

Niall's barrister said her client has also expressed remorse for the deaths, and in particular Lisa, who Niall described as "the most innocent one."

Niall suffered 36% burns as a result of the incident, and spent time in a medically induced coma before undergoing several surgeries.

Martin Smith, a father of three from Kevlin Glen in Omagh, ran his own consultancy business prior to November 2006.

His barrister also spoke of Martin's guilt over what happened to Stephen, and in his role as an older brother and protector of his family, he became involved in the plot to rid Mr O'Hare from the area "not out of retribution or revenge," but "out of a desire to protect others."

The barrister also told the court the events of November 2006 were "extremely out of character", and that since the deaths, Martin was "wearing a heavy burden around his neck."

It also emerged that Martin was so badly burned that the Last Rites were administered in hospital.

Stephen Smith, a father of two from Mourneview in Armagh, was 24 at the time of the incident.

A defence barrister said his client accepted that what happened when he was younger didn't justify what happened to Mr O'Hare and his girlfriend, adding Stephen "feels remorse, regret, embarrassment, guilt and shame."

The barrister told the court that since the incident, his client has suffered from recurring nightmares and was all too aware that he shouldn't have done what he did.

Christopher Smith, also from Mourneview in Armagh, has also expressed his remorse, particularly over the death of Ms McClatchey.

Revealing his client helped the fatally injured woman from the burning house, a defence barrister said Christopher has been left "physically and emotionally scarred" by what happened.

As the four brothers were being led from the dock, their mother Molly wept in the public gallery.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
0 Comments
No comments. Be the first to comment.
POST A COMMENT:
Name:  
Email address*:    
Location:  
Validation:
House Rules:  
Your Comment:  
[All comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Your name, location and comment will be displayed on this page if your post passes moderation.]
MOST POPULAR GALLERIES
Lynda Bellingham: 1948-2014
Mon 20 October 2014
The X Factor: Judges
Fri 03 October 2014
NI v Greece
Tue 14 October 2014