herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

House fire that killed aunt and two children 30 years ago now a murder inquiry

Scene of the tragedy today and pictures of it after the fire
Scene of the tragedy today and pictures of it after the fire

A murder investigation has been launched into a house fire that killed two young girls and their aunt 30 years ago.

Kerrie Ann Byrne (5), her eight-year-old sister Mary Ellen and their aunt Barbara Doyle (20), who was babysitting them at the time, died in the blaze at the children's home in Church Lane, Kilcock, Co Kildare, on September 20, 1987.

The children's parents, Aidan - who died in 2013 - and Elizabeth had gone to a 21st birthday party that night in the local area.

It was originally believed that the fire, which was reported between 3am and 4am, was accidental, but the case was never officially closed.

Breakthrough

New evidence uncovered during a cold case review has now led gardai to believe the fire was started deliberately, and the investigation has become a triple murder inquiry.

While investigators will not divulge if the new evidence came from a forensic breakthrough made possible by advances in science, or if someone came forward or was interviewed in recent times, they say they are now certain the fire was arson.

"New evidence has come into our possession and we now believe the fire was started deliberately," Chief Supt Gerard Roche said yesterday at Leixlip Garda Station. "An incident room has been established here and the Serious Crime Review Team are assisting local investigators.

"The fire was investigated fully at the time and there were some suspicious circumstances in relation to it, which resulted in a very comprehensive investigation, which has remained open since."

Chief Supt Roche said gardai had carried out "extensive inquiries into the new evidence" and were satisfied that, as a result, the investigation could be upgraded to murder.

He said the case had been periodically revisited over the years but that, in the past five years, it had been reappraised with the assistance of the garda cold-case review team.

"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 gardai," he added, urging anyone with information to come forward and help put the three-decades-old mystery to rest.

Nobody has ever been arrested in relation to the case.

Chief Supt Roche said that, at the time of the fire, many people would have been heading home from the birthday party and may have seen someone they knew or someone they did not know in Church Lane.

Neighbours declined to comment on the fire or the latest developments in the case.

Elizabeth still lives in the house where her daughters and sister lost their lives.

Speaking at the time of the tragedy, she told reporters: "I came around to this house and saw the fire.

"I was screaming and roaring their names but there was no answer.

"They hadn't a chance, it was an inferno, God love them."

Anyone with information can contact gardai on 01 6667800 or the Garda confidential line 1800 6661111.

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