By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The man who drove the car used in the firebomb attack that killed three young Catholic brothers at the height of the Drumcree crisis in July 1998 has been convicted of murder.
Three men in the car with him, one of whom threw the petrol bomb that set the house ablaze, remain free, however, although they have been named in open court. The RUC says there is insufficient evidence against them to sustain charges.
Thomas Robert Garfield Gilmour, 24, from Ballymoney, was found guilty last week of the murders of Jason, 9, Mark, 10, and Richard Quinn, 11, in the early hours of July 12 last year. Gilmour was given three life sentences.
Because the killings took place after the Good Friday agreement, Gilmour will not be entitled to early release. He remained impassive in the dock during conviction and sentencing.
The boys’ mother, Chrissie, sat at the back of the packed court with her head bowed during the judge’s ruling, only giving a slight smile when Gilmour was convicted. She was also injured in the attack.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
In his evidence, firefighter Charles McAuley described how he and a colleague began fighting the blaze to cover the two-man teams as they battled their way upstairs through flames and smoke. Within moments one team returned with the body of a child which he took in his arms and passed to an ambulance man.
David Hetherington told the court he had been woken at around 4.20 a.m. by two loud bangs and had seen smoke coming from the Quinn’s house. "I went outside to see Richard Quinn at the window. He said he was getting hot, he said he was frightened, and he said his feet were burning. I asked him could he get out and he said he couldn’t."
Crown lawyer Gordon Kerr told how Christine Quinn woke to hear he sons shouting "Mummy, smoke." He also read a harrowing statement from their mother outlining her vain attempts to save the boys.
"I felt my way to the weans’ room, their door was open. The house was absolutely full of black smoke and I found it very hard to breathe. I reached the weans’ room, I couldn’t find them. I went to the window of the weans’ room and started screaming for help. I shouted out the window: ‘I can’t find the weans.’ "
Gilmour told police that although he was not a UVF member, he was threatened and forced by others to ferry them to and from the Quinn’s house. In a series of 19 interviews, he gradually revealed more details about the attack.
Others said to have had "trouble" with the Quinn family, include Raymond and Ivan Parke, who along with another man, Johnny McKay, were UVF members, the defendant told officers during questioning.