Omagh blast: Charges dropped against suspect

2016-03-01 19:25
A 2014 file photo of Seamus Daly, as he arrives in a police car at Dungannon Court, Northern Ireland. (Peter Morrison, AP)

A 2014 file photo of Seamus Daly, as he arrives in a police car at Dungannon Court, Northern Ireland. (Peter Morrison, AP)

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London - A British court on Tuesday dropped all charges against Seamus Daly, the only remaining suspect in Northern Ireland's 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29 people and threatened a peace deal in the province.

Daly, a bricklayer, has been in prison for nearly two years after being charged over the atrocity committed by the Real IRA militant republicans - a splinter group of the Provision IRA (Irish Republican Army).

The case against him collapsed as prosecutors withdrew all charges after inconsistent evidence by a key witness in preliminary pre-trial hearings.

The car bombing, which also injured around 220 people, was the single worst atrocity of the sectarian conflict known as The Troubles in which around 3 500 people were killed over three decades.

No-one has ever been convicted in a criminal court over the bombing, which tore through the market town of Omagh, testing the peace accords signed only months earlier to put an end to the conflict.

In 2009, the Belfast High Court found that Daly and three other men were liable in a civil case brought by families of the victims and they were later ordered to pay more than £1.6m in damages to the relatives.

Daly has always denied involvement in the bombing.

"It's very painful, but on the evidence we've heard, I wouldn't want anyone to be convicted," Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden was one of those killed in the bombing, told the BBC after Tuesday's decision.

"I feel that there has been a chance wasted here. There never was a political will to find the people responsible," he said.

Decision 'not taken lightly'

Acting on conflicting bomb warnings, police had moved shoppers and shop employees into a part of Omagh where a car packed with 225kg of explosives was parked, unwittingly putting them in close proximity to the huge blast.

A fireball swept from the epicentre of the explosion and shop fronts were blown back on to shoppers inside. The blast was so powerful that some of the victims' bodies were never found.

Among the dead were nine children and three generations of one family.

The Real IRA - which sees itself as the successor to the Irish Republican Army paramilitaries - claimed responsibility for the attack.

Daly faced murder charges along with causing the explosion and possessing the bomb, and two charges relating to another 1998 bomb plot.

The decision by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to drop the charges came came in preliminary hearings before the case had even reached trial in the Crown Court after a key witness gave contradictory accounts.

"Under cross-examination a number of issues became apparent which impacted upon the reliability of the evidence that the witness was providing," said a PPS spokesperson.

"On behalf of the PPS, I extend our sympathy to the families affected by the Omagh bomb. We hope they are assured that this decision was not taken lightly," he added.

Colm Murphy, the only man ever jailed over the bombing, had his conviction overturned in 2005 following accusations of perjury against police and a new trial was ordered.

He was acquitted in 2010 at the retrial.

Relatives of the victims successfully brought the compensation claims against Murphy, Daly, Michael McKevitt and Liam Campbell in 2009.

In civil cases, guilt can be proven on the "balance of probabilities" rather than criminal law's requirement of "beyond reasonable doubt".

Sean Hoey, an electrician from south Armagh, was found not guilty of the 29 murders in 2007 following a lengthy trial.

Around 3 500 people died in three decades of violence between Protestants favouring continued union with Britain, and Catholics seeking a unified Ireland.

The Omagh bombing was seen as a major test of the fragile peace established by the Good Friday agreements inked just four months earlier.

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