|House burned down|
By CHRIS KILPATRICK
Four brothers sat side-by-side in a courtroom dock as their trial for the murder of a man who abused one of them as a child and the sex offender's girlfriend got under way.
_____ (33) and his partner _____ (21) died having suffered horrific injuries at their remote cottage in Co Armagh seven years ago.
They were set upon by a masked gang armed with hammers at their home on the Foley Road, near Keady.
The property was then doused with petrol and set alight, the court was told.
Mr _____ and Ms _____ suffered 80% burns to their bodies.
Martin (40), Niall (37), Christopher (33) and Stephen (31) Smith appeared together in the dock of Armagh Crown Court yesterday charged with their murders.
Those in court heard that Stephen Smith was one of three young boys abused by Mr _____ in the late 1980s.
Mr _____ – who was around 17 when he committed the offences – was later convicted and given probation for his crimes.
All four brothers deny murdering the couple.
They also deny charges of arson with intent to endanger life on November 6, 2006.
Ms _____'s father and other family members were present in court for the first day of the trial, which is expected to last for six weeks.
Prosecution barrister Toby Hedworth QC told trial judge Mr Justice Weatherup he would be making the case the brothers "intended to kill" Mr _____ and Ms _____.
Harrowing accounts of the night of the attack were heard in court yesterday.
The jury was told the couple had a visitor to their home at around 5pm on the day of the attack who was helping them to fix their central heating.
When they heard a noise at the rear of their property at 9pm that evening they presumed it was their neighbour returning to carry on with that work, the court was told.
However, a masked gang burst into the property armed with hammers.
Minutes later another neighbour of Mr _____ and Ms _____ said there was loud thumping at his door.
His daughter opened the door and erupted into hysterics.
The neighbour said Ms _____ had no top on and her trousers had been almost completely burnt off.
Her hair was burnt and she was unable to see.
He said Ms _____ told him five or six men had come into the house.
She said they had called Mr _____ "a paedophile".
The neighbour ran to the couple's property which had flames coming through the roof.
Mr _____ was lying on his back outside. The neighbour said that Mr _____ was "unrecognisable", with his face covered in blood.
Other neighbours raced to the scene when they saw the blaze.
Mr _____ had blood round his mouth and appeared to be missing teeth.
A post-mortem examination noted he was missing four teeth and had sustained a fractured skull and numerous lacerations to his body.
Ambulance crew treating Ms _____ said she spoke calmly when relaying details of what had happened. She also gave similar details to police at the scene.
On the same night the four brothers also sustained burns, the court was told.
The prosecution alleges the injuries were sustained in the same incident.
The brothers went to Louth County Hospital in Dundalk, said the prosecuting lawyer, claiming they had been trying to "escape to the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland".
At the hospital the four presented with burn injuries and burnt clothing, but claimed they had been hurt in a car crash at some unknown location.
Along with items seized from a silver BMW they went to hospital in, their clothes were seized and forensically examined with Mr Hedworth telling the court that each item was connected with other items of burnt clothing found at the scene of the fire.
Mr Hedworth said a search of the BMW uncovered a receipt for the purchase of four balaclavas from an outdoor activity store in Dublin dated October 21, 2006.
This finding, he declared, "allows the prosecution to submit that the attack had been planned for more than a fortnight".
A car said to have been used by the gang who attacked the couple was found burnt out at a quarry the day after they were targeted, the court was told.
Turning to the forensic examination of the bungalow itself, the jury heard there were estimates that up to 75 litres of petrol had been spread around every room in the property with the exception of the bathroom and that when it ignited, the explosion was of such force that it "lifted the roof off" and blew the back door into bits.
Anyone who had been inside the bungalow or close to the explosion would have sustained burn injuries and burnt clothing, submitted the lawyer.
In conclusion, Mr Hedworth told the jury: "We will submit to you that the evidence of the fire, the arrival of the defendants at the hospital with burn injuries and 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."
Describing the attack on Mr _____ as "deliberate and brutal", the lawyer further submitted that the defendants did not only intend to cause him really serious harm but that "the evidence suggests that the intention was in fact to kill".
The trial continues.