Saturday 20 January 2018

She was pleased with her new home. Days later, she and her kids died in it

Friend who died with them back in Ireland after being homesick

TERRIBLE TRAGEDY: State Pathologist Marie Cassidy leaves the house in Newcastle West, Co Limerick, where the killings took place. Photo: David Conachy
TERRIBLE TRAGEDY: State Pathologist Marie Cassidy leaves the house in Newcastle West, Co Limerick, where the killings took place. Photo: David Conachy

MAEVE SHEEHAN

THREE cats purred contentedly on the porch of Sarah Hines's family home in Feoghnagh on the Co Limerick border last Wednesday, oblivious to the tragedy wreaked on the occupants of the remote, pink bungalow.

The previous day, her body and those of her children, Reece and Amy, and a friend who just happened to be visiting were found dead in the rented home the young single mother had just moved into.

Her stepfather, Peter Rolfe, appeared utterly shocked -- it was a tragedy, he said, and their lives had changed forever.

Sarah, 25, was looking forward to a new start. She had just moved into the new rented home, an end of terrace, on Hazelgrove estate in Newcastle West in Co Limerick. A single mother of Reece, three, and Amy, five months, Sarah was especially pleased with having two bedrooms for her two children. When her mother, Abina, and stepfather called to see her new home on the Friday before she died, she was delighted.

Her friend, Alicia Brough, 20, had just arrived. Like Sarah, Alicia was from England. Sarah had moved from Essex with her mother 11 years ago. Alicia moved to Rockchapel in north Cork from Staffordshire with her family six years ago. They met through their parents. Alicia's stepfather, Paul, had studied for a diploma in organic horticulture at the Organic College in Dromcollogher, as had Sarah's stepfather.

Both of their families aspired to living the rural idyll, embracing a new-age, back-to-the-land lifestyle. Sarah's family lived in a bungalow surrounded by acres of farm land in Feoghnagh, near the Limerick/Cork border. Alicia's lived in Rockchapel, in north Cork, just a few miles away.

Alicia was not long back in Ireland, after completing a course in psychology and sociology in the UK. According to her parents, she returned because she was homesick. She organised her 21st birthday party to coincide with Halloween, even though her birthday wasn't actually until November 25.

She wore a black Charleston-style dress and devil's horns and beamed ear-to-ear. Her stepfather Paul told a newspaper last week that he was glad she had brought the party forward: "We're so glad that she did now, because we had a brilliant night. It was just us and her closest friends," he said.

Sarah was among the revellers. Her stepfather, Peter, later said that the girls "really clicked" at that party.

"She was fantastic, so full of life. She wasn't the sort who would sit in front of the television or sit indoors. She loved being out and doing things. She was up for life. She was brilliant," he later said.

As part of her new life, Sarah had also renewed her friendship with Chris Bradley, a 35-year-old martial arts expert who had known her since childhood in Essex. In fact, he told a Norwich newspaper last week that they were childhood sweethearts.

Years ago, they had joked about getting married once she was old enough, he said. It was part of their banter. Although they hadn't seen each other for years, they renewed contact on Facebook two years ago and he intended to move to Ireland in December to be with her.

A week to the day later, she was dead. "I'm devastated. My wife-to-be has been killed. Both kids have been taken. All my plans have gone," Mr Bradley said.

Alicia's mother, Maria Dempsey, posted a message on her daughter's Facebook site last week. "It is with great sadness that I have to say our beautiful-hearted, kind, considerate daughter has been taken away from our family and also Sarah, Reece and baby Amy. May you all rest in peace," she wrote.

The tragedy only unfolded last Tuesday at 12.20am, after retired detective Con Browne got a phonecall suggesting that something had happened to Sarah and children.

The retired garda contacted Newcastle West Garda station. Over an hour later, the gardai discovered the bodies of Sarah and her children, and that of Alicia. All four had been killed. Mr Browne, who now runs a taxi firm, used to pick her up in his hackney cab quite frequently, and found her charming. "She was always very pleasant," he said.

Alicia will be buried in her home village of Rockchapel tomorrow. Sarah and her children are expected to be buried later this week, after family members travel from the UK.

Sunday Independent

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