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Father charged with deliberately setting his two sons on fire

Warning: This post deals with difficult issues surrounding a child custody battle and horrific injuries. It may be unsettling for some readers.

Tasmanian Police charged the boys father with attempted murder

It was a difficult separation.

With two children involved they often are.

Just how far the difficulties went are what is being discussed in an attempted murder trial in Tasmania.

In an emotionally charged Supreme Court in Burnie Paul Brian Edward Connelly is facing an attempted murder charge.

Police allege that in December last year he set fire to his two sons aged eight and five in the family car.

The jury has heard that the accused wanted to kill himself and his sons to prevent his estranged wife getting custody of the boys.

He has pleaded not guilty.

It was early December last year and Alison Lander left her husband after having an affair two months earlier.

Things had been strained and the couple had been having marriage counselling.

Ms Lander told the court that on December 5 she had secured a rental property in Burnie, Tasmania after contacting the Salvation Army and Anglicare for help.

According to a police witness Officer Anthony Stewart, Ms Lander had contacted the police earlier that week who said that she and her husband had fought and she was concerned for Connelly’s welfare.

The Officer said that Connelly had been abusive to Ms Lander on the phone, blaming her for problems in their marriage.

Connelly had told her it was too late and he wanted to end it.

The court heard that Mr Connelly placed two gas cylinders in the rear of his car

Prosecutor Daryl Coates told the court Connelly was extremely upset on December 5 because his wife of 12 years had finally left him.

The boys were with their father that day.

He had picked up his sons from after school care and a daycare centre at 4.45pm and when they arrived at their Shorewell Park home, he parked at his property’s rear, the prosecution said.

He told the children they were going to have a picnic in the car with food and treats, and retrieved toys for them from their bedrooms.

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The court heard that Mr Connelly placed two gas cylinders in the rear of his Hyundai Getz and around 5pm he ignited gas in the car causing fire to start.

He was in the car with his sons, the prosecution said.

The fire erupted through the car and out of its driver’s door.

Their Mum was due to pick them up at 6pm.

Yesterday witnesses described hearing their screams. Next door neighbour Mandy Mercer told the court she saw the boys shirts melting off them.

Ms Mercer said she was in her kitchen at the time and heard a big bang and saw Connelly lying on the ground.

Ms Mercer’s triple-O phone call was played to the court.

She told the operator: “There’s kids screaming their heads off…it’s a mess.”

The court case should run for five days

Mr Connelly appeared in court yesterday wearing a black mask for skin grafts.

The court heard that before the incident, Connelly had talked about using gas to set his house on fire while his sons were asleep.

He told his sister he was going to kill himself and the boys, and didn’t want his wife to get them, the prosecution said.

On December 3, 2012, at 3am, hours after his wife had told him she wanted a “break” from their relationship, he left their house and took pills with him, Mr Coates said.

When she regained contact with him, Mr Connelly told police with her that he “wanted to end it”, the court heard.

He returned at 8.30am and later received a mental health assessment at the North West Regional Hospital, the prosecution said.

It found he posed a low risk of harm to himself and others, Mr Coates said.

Chief Justice Alan Blow warned jury members they may be disturbed by some of the evidence about the extent of the injuries sustained by Connelly and his sons.

Their now nine-year-old son will give evidence this week.

We will keep you updated.

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