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Cold-case lead comes 11 years after boy's death

A cold-case review into the death of a 12-year-old boy in Tallaght more than a decade ago has uncovered new evidence against one of the prime suspects for his killing.

Stephen Hughes Connors was burnt to death as he slept in a make-shift wooden hut in Tallaght, south Dublin, in August 2001. Eleven years later detectives have uncovered new allegations that the hut was torched by a criminal in retribution for anti-social behaviour by some local youngsters.

A number of new witnesses have come forward to make statements against the suspect, claiming that he was so annoyed with joyriders on the night of Stephen's death that he torched the hut which local children used as a "den".

The suspect has been questioned about the allegations in prison, where he is serving a lengthy sentence for another crime.

The case has also been bolstered by advances in imaging techniques which means that poor-quality CCTV images of the crime scene can now be used as evidence.

The footage shows a man twice walking towards the den on the night of Stephen's death. On the first occasion he walked towards the den and walked away again. The second time, at around 5am, he walked towards the hut, and a short time later, was seen walking away with it ablaze behind him.

Detectives have now completed their investigation into Stephen's death and sent a file to the DPP.

Stephen's mother, Elizabeth, said this weekend: "Now that we have new evidence, we are hopeful that the DPP will make the right decision."

Stephen Hughes Connors was the eldest of three children born to Elizabeth and her husband, Billy Connors. He was due to start sixth class at St Thomas School after the summer holidays.

In the last days of summer, Stephen and his pals built the makeshift den with wooden pallets outside a disused grocery shop a short distance from his home. On the Saturday night of his death, Stephen told his mother he was sleeping at his friend's house but changed his mind. On his way home he stopped in at the "den" and ended up sleeping there, along with a 14-year-old friend.

Gardai believe the suspect, who didn't live in the area, had been taking drugs in a nearby house, became annoyed with local joyriders and decided to set the "den" on fire.

The hut went up in flames in seconds, fuelled by dry wood and the foam mattresses and other flammable materials which it contained. Stephen's friend escaped.

Stephen was trapped in the flames. A post-mortem later revealed he had died of smoke inhalation. His mother, along with neighbours, rushed to the blazing hut, not realising that her son was trapped inside.

Stephen's death shocked the local community and was widely condemned.

Gardai initially hoped that CCTV footage covering part of the crime scene would provide them with a lead.

But the images were grainy and detectives could not positively identify the man captured on film. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was not enough evidence to charge anyone with the crime.

Tallaght garda re-opened the case on the 10th anniversary of Stephen's death last year, working with the garda's cold-case unit.

Detectives re-interviewed witnesses, some of whom were willing to talk because the suspect was by then behind bars. Two of the witnesses had long been afraid to talk to detectives while the suspect was at large.

One of them proved crucial by apparently undermining the criminal's alibi for the night of Stephen's death.

Sunday Independent