Sean Hoey, now 38 an unemployed electrician from Jonesborough, south Armagh,was today cleared of the murder of 29 people in the 1998 Omagh bombing, the worst atrocity in more than three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.The the trial concluded on January 17 this year and Judge Weir who heard the case without a jury has taken 11 months to reach his verdict.
Judge Weir criticised the process of bagging, labelling and recording of exhibits and hit out at the "slapdash approach" and "cavalier disregard" the police and some forensic experts had for the integrity of forensic items.
Judge Weir said two police officers had told untruths in a deliberate attempt to bolster their statements and said there had been a calculated deception that made it impossible for him to accept their evidence.
Only one person, Hoey's uncle Colm Murphy a County Louth builder and publican, has ever been convicted of involvement in the blast, but his conviction was overturned in January 2005 after he had spent three years in jail - a retrial ordered by the Court of Criminal Appeal, on the grounds that two Gardaí had falsified interview notes and he now faces a re-trial. This may be delayed or forgotten about as his lawyers claime he is lawyers claiming he is suffering from short-term memory loss as a result of a car accident.
In 2003, Michael McKevitt, understood to be the leader of the Real IRA, was jailed by a Dublin court for 20 years for "directing terrorism", although the trial judge was explicit that the charges were unrelated to the Omagh bombing.
The car bomb attack on August 15 1998, killed Protestants and Catholics and left 220 wounded, many with horrific injuries. The 500 lb bomb was placed in car stolen in County Monaghan (Eire) a week before. It had its Republic of Ireland number plates replaced with Northern Ireland plates and was parked outside a clothes shop on Omagh's Market Street, less than 30 minutes after the first warning was sent to local media. (See pic : click to enlarge)
Three different warnings were received by news organisations in the province half an hour before the bomb detonated.
Discrepancies over the location of the bomb in those calls simply added to the confusion - resulting in Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers leading people towards the bomb, rather than away from it.
The bombing was carried out by the Real IRA, which opposed the Good Friday agreement that had been signed in April.In July 2001 a double agent using the pseudonym Kevin Fulton alleges he told his Special Branch handlers days in advance of the Omagh attack by the Real IRA.
Kevin Fulton was an ex Britsh soldier , a Catholic from Newry , who was given false discharge papers from his regiment and told by the shadowy military intelligence agency, the Force Research Unit (FRU), to infiltrate the IRA. As part of long- running investigations by the Sunday Herald into Ulster's Dirty War, Fulton has already claimed he warned RUC Special Branch that the Omagh bombing was being planned at least 48 hours before the Real IRA placed the bomb. *See Brig. Gordon Kerr
Hoey, who was already in jail on remand for other alleged offences, was charged with the murders and multiple other crimes in May 2005. See Lord Patel's post Omagh bombing: man faces murder charges:6.14PM, Wed May 4 2005
The trial eventually began in September 2006. Hoey pleaded not guilty to 58 offences,(2 were dropped). Today his mother Ritea, said outside the court : "I want the world to know that my son Sean Hoey is innocent."
The early proceedings were dogged by controversy as it emerged that some witness statements had been lost and others altered. During the 56-day trial, prosecutors tried to tie Hoey to the Omagh bombing and other explosions by using DNA evidence specifically a type called low copy DNA. But his lawyers challenged the evidence, claiming it was unreliable.
Hoey's defence team repeatedly argued that the police had tampered with evidence and that exhibits had been wrongly labelled. They said there had been a police 'conspiracy' to 'bury' evidence. They also challenged the integrity of some of the police and forensic witnesses.
In this much awaited verdict Judge Weir quoted a judgment by the Court of Appeal, which said justice demanded " proper evidence and not merely evidence which might be true to a considerable extent, probably is true, but which was so convincing in truth and manifestly reliable that it reached the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt."
He went on to say : “The evidence against the accused in this case did not reach that immutable standard. Accordingly, I find Mr Hoey not guilty on each of the remaining counts of the indictment.”So all the FRU and their state paid assassins can sleep a little more comfortably as their secrets don't surface in a court .. again.