House fire upgraded to murder investigation 30 years later

Thirty years to the day since she lost her two children and her sister in a fire, Elizabeth Byrne is faced with new evidence showing they were murdered.

Elizabeth Byrne with her children Mary Ellen and Kerrie Ann. The two young girls died in the family home in 1987.

Her daughters, Mary Ellen, 8, and Kerrie Ann, 3, along with their aunt, Barbara Doyle, 20, died in the Byrne family home in Kilcock, Co Kildare, on September 20, 1987.

While her sister babysat, Ms Byrne and husband Aidan, who has since died, were at a 21st birthday party in the locality.

Elizabeth has continued to live on at the home on Church Lane since the fire.

After a comprehensive review going back five years, gardaí have revealed to the public that they have “new evidence” to show the fire was “started deliberately”.

Whether the evidence is a scientific breakthrough or a new witness is not clear as gardaí are keeping that to themselves for operational reasons.

Speaking at a press conference, Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche of Leixlip Garda Station said while there were “some suspicious circumstances” in relation to the fire at the time, that had now changed dramatically.

He said Ms Byrne would not be shocked by the announcement as his officers have been keeping her informed of their review in recent years.

Barbara Doyle, 20, was babysitting her sister Elizabeth Byrne’s two children while Elizabeth attended a 21st party in the locality.

Chief Supt Roche said this process had stepped up in recent months as detectives investigated and checked new evidence that had emerged.

“New evidence has now come into our possession that the fire was started deliberately,” he said.

“The investigation has now been upgraded to a murder investigation.”

Chief Supt Roche pointed out it was not just new information, but new evidence.

“It’s a culmination of a number of different factors and reviewing the evidence — it’s not just one thing that has brought us to upgrade this to a murder investigation, which is a very significant thing to do and a very serious thing to do,” he said.

A fire-gutted house at Church Lane in Kilcock, Co Kildare. It was reported at between 3am and 4am on September 20, 1987.

He declined to disclose the nature of the evidence, but said “extensive inquiries” had been carried out to make them satisfied they were now dealing with a murder.

His next step was to appeal to local people to come forward. He said Kilcock was a small village back in 1987, when “everybody knew everybody”.

He said the fire was reported between 3am and 4am and that a lot of people would have been going home from the 21st party at the time.

“We believe people would have been travelling home at the time, may have seen things in the vicinity, may have seen people they knew, may have seen people they didn’t know,” he said.

“We know there certainly is information out there in the area that could be very significant to us at this time.”

Chief Supt Roche added: “We are satisfied there are people who will remember this fire and the deaths of Barbara, Mary Ellen, and Kerrie, and who have not yet spoken to gardaí.”

Leixlip Garda Station 01 6667800; Garda Confidential Line 1800 666111

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