Manslaughter verdict for four brothers

Published Tuesday, 03 December 2013
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Four brothers have been found guilty of the manslaughter of a convicted paedophile and his girlfriend in a revenge attack in Co Armagh seven years ago.

There was complete silence in the packed courtroom at Armagh Crown Court on Tuesday as the jury foreman announced the verdicts that Smith brothers Niall, Martin, Stephen and Christopher were not guilty of murdering Thomas O'Hare and Lisa McClatchey but guilty of their manslaughter.

The four brothers were also unanimously convicted of attempted arson at Mr O'Hare's home on the Foley Road, near the village of Keady, on 6 November 2006.

The Crown had contended that they launched their well-planned plot in revenge for sexual abuse O'Hare had perpetrated on Stephen and two other boys in the late 80s and early 90s.

Mr Justice Weatherup told the jury on Monday, to find them guilty of murder, they must be satisfied that the men intended to kill Thomas O'Hare and that one of them deliberately ignited the petrol, describing that murder had two ingredients, "the guilty mind and the guilty act".

But on Tuesday the jury accepted the men's claims that they only ever intended to burn Mr O'Hare out of his home and out of Clady.

Their plan went horrifically wrong however when having doused almost the entire bungalow in petrol, something ignited the vapours, causing a massive explosion which "literally" lifted the roof and blew out the doors and most of the windows such was the force behind it.

Although the brothers claimed they intended only to light the petrol when everyone was safely outside all six, the four brothers and their victims were still inside the bungalow when the petrol went up.

The four brothers almost died themselves and a priest even administered the last rites to Christopher Smith as he lay in a medically induced coma.

But 33-year-old Mr O'Hare and his 21-year-old girlfriend succumbed to their injuries, multiple organ failure causing their deaths four and nine days respectively after the attack.

No one has the right to take the law into their own hands, regardless of any perceived threat, provocation or injustice.

PSNI spokesperson

Neighbours, a police officer and a paramedic testified that within minutes of being horrifically burned, Mr O'Hare and especially Ms McClatchey were able to tell them how they were attacked by a gang of masked men.

The witnesses told the jury that Lisa had said how she and Thomas had been watching TV when five or six masked men burst in, attacked Mr O'Hare with a sledgehammer before they "poured petrol around the house and round them and lit it".

Within hours of the fire itself, investigating police were knocking the front door of the Smith family home in the Mourneview estate in Clady after the fleeing brothers left behind a plethora of forensic evidence in the fields close to the bungalow.

Among the items recovered by the PSNI was Stephen Smith's bank card, a mobile phone belonging to Martin Smith, along with numerous items of burnt and singed clothing, stripped off when the defendants themselves were still on fire.

In an effort to evade arrest, the brothers sought treatment and sanctuary at Co Louth Hospital, just over the border in Dundalk, giving a lying account to medical staff that they were burned in a car crash but the Gardaí seized their clothing and along with items uncovered in Niall Smith's silver BMW car, one of two cars used to take them to the hospital, the brothers were inextricably linked to the attack, long before they admitted they were.

That other car, a green Ford Mondeo, was driven by a Mr X the brothers all steadfastly refused to identify and was sold for scrap the following day.

Once over the border and knowing that they were wanted men in Northern Ireland, all four brothers remained on the run for seven years until extradited back to NI earlier this year - Niall and Martin from the ROI, Christopher from England and Stephen from Australia.

Although the Smith brothers have been acquitted of double murder, they still face lengthy jail terms as the maximum sentence for manslaughter is life imprisonment.

Remanding the four into custody Mr Justice Weatherup adjourned passing sentence until a late date when reports have been compiled.

Following the verdict, a spokesman for PSNI Serious Crime Branch said: "Police acknowledge the verdicts reached by the jury in this case.

"We acknowledge them first and foremost for Lisa McClatchey and Thomas O'Hare and for their two families who were robbed of their loved ones in truly horrendous circumstances.

"But we also acknowledge them on behalf of the detectives from Serious Crime Branch who began this investigation more than seven years ago and along with the Public Prosecution Service persevered to bring the four Smith brothers from the Republic, England and Australia to face a court in Northern Ireland and answer for their crimes.

"Police will continue to work with law enforcement partners here and in other jurisdictions to protect individuals and communities in Northern Ireland. We would encourage everyone to work with us."

Outside the courthouse Molly Smith, the mens' mother, told UTV reporter Sara Moore that she was glad the trial is over and it could bring peace to all three families and allow them to move on.

© UTV News
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