Monday 20 November 2017

Murder probe 30 years after two girls and babysitter killed in blaze

The fire scene where Barbara Doyle died with her two nieces
The fire scene where Barbara Doyle died with her two nieces

Conor Feehan and Ken Foy

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 sister Mary Ellen (8) 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.

Kerrie and Mary's parents Aidan, who died in 2013, and Elizabeth had gone to a 21st party that night in the local area and Barbara was minding the girls. It was originally believed that the fire, which was reported between 3am and 4am, was accidental but the case was never officially closed.

Now gardaí have said that new evidence uncovered during a cold case review has turned the investigation into a triple murder inquiry. They now believe that the fire was started deliberately.

While investigators will not divulge if the new evidence is because of a forensic breakthrough made possible through advances in science, or if someone came forward or was interviewed in recent times, they say they are now sure that the fire was arson.

"New evidence has come into our possession and we now believe the fire was started deliberately," Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche said yesterday at a press conference in Leixlip garda station.

Barbara Doyle
Barbara Doyle

"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 gardaí 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 over the past five years it had been looked at 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 gardaí," he added, urging anyone with information to come forward and help put the three decade-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 21st birthday party and may have seen someone in Church Lane.

Today the quiet lane shows no signs of the tragedy that was unleashed upon the Byrne and Doyle families. Neighbours declined to comment on the fire, or on the latest developments in the 30-year-old case.

Anyone with information is urged to contact gardaí on 01 666 7800 or the Garda confidential line 1800 666 1111.

Fire victims Mary Ellen Byrne (8) (left) and her sister Kerrie Ann Byrne (3) (right), pictured with their mother Elizabeth Byrne
Fire victims Mary Ellen Byrne (8) (left) and her sister Kerrie Ann Byrne (3) (right), pictured with their mother Elizabeth Byrne

Irish Independent

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