Northern Ireland

Man held over deaths of three women in Dromore

Lily McKee, 52, died in December 2002
Image caption Lily McKee, 52, died in December 2002

A 66-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the deaths of three women in Dromore, County Down, over the past 11 years.

He was arrested in Dromore on Tuesday and has been taken to Antrim police station for questioning.

He was also arrested in connection with a number of other offences in relation to other women.

Police said the families of the women, who died in "suspicious circumstances", had been informed.

The three women who died were: Michelle Bickerstaff, 47, in April last year, Margaret Weise, 50, in August 2007 and Elizabeth McKee, 52, known as Lily, who died in December 2002.

It is understood a man had been arrested previously in connection with Michelle Bickerstaff's death. He was released unconditionally.

An obituary at the time of her death said that Michelle Bickerstaff, a mother-of-four, had died suddenly in hospital.

The BBC understands she had suffered a head injury.

The police said their investigation did not involve any exhumations.

The grandson of Lily McKee, Ryan Dickson, told the BBC there were suspicious circumstances when she died, but no one was arrested.

He said his grandmother had been in an "on-off relationship" with the suspect for about 11 years before she died.

Mr Dickson described his grandmother as a "lovely woman" who was very well liked in the town and had lots of friends.

He confirmed that police had spoken to the family several times in recent months.

Appealing for information, Detective Chief Inspector Richard Harkness said: "We are keen to speak with anyone who may have any information which could assist us and I would urge members of the community in Dromore to contact us.

"People may have been reluctant to come forward in the past but I can assure you that any information given to the police will be treated in the utmost confidence.

"Your information could provide us with the vital link to enable us to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion."

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Media captionLagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson knew the women involved

Dromore councillor Carol Black said the latest development would be "devastating" for the families.

"I have been speaking to a lot of locals in and around the town and they are absolutely devastated. The whole community is devastated. My thoughts go out to the families, they are in a grieving process.

"Dromore is in the headlines for the wrong reasons. We are a great wee town," she said.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he knew some of the women involved and their families.

"I can't begin to contemplate what it must mean to them," he said.

"It is devastating news for families to know that the circumstances of the deaths of their loved ones are not only suspicious but may have been outside the law. Our thoughts and prayers with them."

Mr Donaldson said Dromore was a close knit community and most people knew the women.

"There is a real sense of deep shock, people are just disbelieving that something like this could potentially have happened in their local town," he said.

Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea, of NI21, said the community was shocked at the development.