Relatives weep at 999 call made by girl in Omagh fire

Relatives wept today as they listened to a harrowing 999 call made by a terrified schoolgirl moments before she died with six other family members in a house fire started by her father.

Relatives wept today as they listened to a harrowing 999 call made by a terrified schoolgirl moments before she died with six other family members in a house fire started by her father.

Caroline McGovern, 13, screamed "Help me" and "I'm burning ... run" as she gasped for breath in her burning home in Omagh, Co Tyrone, a coroners court heard.

Her heavy drinking depressive father, 36-year-old Arthur McElhill, a convicted sex offender, killed himself, his partner Lorraine McGovern, 29, and their five children when he doused their house with petrol and torched it in November 2007.

The farm labourer, who had a history of suicide attempts and was twice found guilty of sex attacks on teenage girls, is believed to have started the blaze after Ms McGovern threatened to leave him.

Fire crews found the badly burned bodies of all seven in the house at Lammy Crescent. Caroline, the eldest child, still had a phone in one hand and her Rosary beads in the other.

Relatives from both extended families wept and shielded their ears as her desperate cries for help echoed round Omagh Court House on the opening day of the inquest hearing.

As well as the teenager's frantic pleas, muffled screams of help could also be heard in the distance from other family members on the recording.

Caroline then spluttered the partially coherent: "He's k... us".

Phonetics expert Professor Peter French had been asked by police to decipher the missing syllables after the sound 'k' but he told coroner Suzanne Anderson he had been unable to do so.

The call to the emergency services lasted around six minutes, but Caroline only spoke to the operator for the first 45 seconds.

The remainder was periodically marked by distant screams and cries, with the operator repeatedly trying to re-establish contact by shouting "hello" and "are you in Lammy Crescent?".

As the call drew to an end a series of gasping noises were clearly audible - these are believed to be Caroline's last breaths.

Her siblings Sean, seven, four-year-old Bellina, one-year-old Clodagh and 10-month-old baby James also died in the blaze.

State pathologist Dr Jack Crane and his assistant Dr Alistair Bentley earlier told the court all seven family members had been alive when the fire started and had died from either carbon monoxide poisoning or smoke inhalation.

Arthur McElhill was not under the influence of alcohol at the time, Dr Bentley added.

At the start of the public hearing, the coroner said she expected the McElhill family to make a legal challenge which may prevent evidence from some witnesses being heard today.

"We will be able to proceed with a certain number of non-contentious witnesses," she said.

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