Helensburgh fire accused wanted to be ‘top man’

Tributes outside the Sharkey family's home. Picture: PA
Tributes outside the Sharkey family's home. Picture: PA
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A MAN accused of murdering a father and his two children wanted to be “the top man” of a town, a court has heard.

Convicted drug dealer Lee McCarthy, 31, made the claim under cross-examination on his third day of giving evidence at the trial of two men accused of killing 55-year-old Thomas Sharkey and the children in a house fire in Helensburgh, Argyll in July 2011.

In a statement Mr McCarthy gave to police months later he blamed Scott Snowden, who is on trial, for being involved in the fire.

When asked for a motive he said: “(Snowden) wanted to be the top man, the main man of the town by reputation. Tommy Sharkey was a threat to Scott Snowden, and Tommy could take him out at any time.”

At the High Court in Glasgow, defence advocate Donald Findlay QC asked if Snowden meant to kill him and Mr McCarthy replied: “Yes”.

Asked if the late Mr Sharkey was a gangster, Mr McCarthy replied. “No I wouldn’t say that.”

But Mr Findlay said that his statement was the early stages of him trying to create a motive by suggesting Mr Sharkey was a man capable of doing or organising violence.

“A man not here to defend his reputation. How cowardly is that?” Mr Findlay asked.

Later Mr Findlay said: “Bags, a nickname for Thomas Sharkey, didn’t pose a threat to Scott Snowden. It is all a web of lies and intrigue. Scott Snowden had no motive to do any harm to Mr Sharkey, let along his wife and kids.”

In another police statement in November 2011, Mr McCarthy said he “swore on his wee girl’s life” that he knew nothing about the fire that killed the Sharkey family.

Yet in March the following year he gave another statement in which he said: “There are weans dead and all this needs to come to an end, and people in Helensburgh need to be able not to live in fear.”

Earlier Mr McCarthy was accused of repeatedly lying to police about a series of fires in the town.

Unemployed Mr McCarthy, released on an electronic tag from his prison sentence on Friday last week, said he was “drip feeding” information about several fires in town to police because he feared for his family.

But Mr Findlay accused Mr McCarthy of repeatedly lying to police during a series of interviews and said he took a “wilful, manipulative, lying and twisted approach” to his dealings with the police.

These include fires at the home of a family in William Street, Helensburgh in January 2011, when petrol was poured on the porch door, and at The Garth Inn and Mariners pubs.

Mr McCarthy insisted: “I told the truth in the end.”

Earlier Mr McCarthy, an ex-drug dealer and former soldier, said he knew a man responsible for a fatal fire within 48 hours but failed to tell the police.

Mr McCarthy told the court that he met accused Scott Snowden two days after the Sharkey fire and established that Mr Snowden was responsible “in part or in whole” for the death of two children despite, according to Mr Findlay, him being on the other side of the Atlantic.

In cross-examination of Mr McCarthy, giving evidence for a third day, Mr Findlay said: “That was something unthinkable. You discovered you had been involved commercially with a man who killed two children. You would head to the police at the first opportunity.”

Mr McCarthy replied: “I should have.”

Mr Findlay said Mr McCarthy only spoke to the police when they approached him sometime later.

“Surely this moral outrage you wear in court like fancy clothes is just hypocrisy,” Mr Findlay said.

Scott Snowden, 37 and Robert Jennings, 50 are accused of murdering three members of a family by pouring petrol or something similar through their letterbox and setting fire to the house.

Thomas Sharkey Jnr, 21, and his eight-year-old sister Bridget died in a blaze at their home in Helensburgh, Argyll in the early hours of Sunday July 24 2011. Their father, 55-year-old Thomas Sharkey Snr, died of his injuries in hospital six days later.

The children’s mother, Angela Sharkey, 48, was badly injured in the blaze at the Scott Court property, but survived.

Snowden and Jennings face 22 charges between them, all of which they deny, including an allegation of setting fire to Mariners pub in 2010.

Both men have lodged special defences of incrimination and alibi, with Snowden claiming he was in Mexico when the fire at the Sharkey home was allegedly started and Jennings claims he was home alone in Helensburgh.

The trial before judge Lord Matthews continues tomorrow.