February 24, 2010 2:00 pm

Court quashes Omagh bomb conviction

The only person found guilty of the 1998 Omagh bombing, in which 29 died, has had his conviction dismissed in a retrial in the Irish Republic.

Colm Murphy, a building contractor from Dundalk in county Louth near the border with Northern Ireland, was convicted in 2002 of conspiracy to cause what was Northern Ireland’s worst single atrocity. He was sentenced to 14 years. However his conviction was overturned by the Irish Supreme Court on appeal in 2005.

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The hearing on Wednesday before three judges in Dulbin’s non-jury Special Criminal Court – set up to deal with terrorist cases – quashed his original conviction after it found that evidence gathered from police interviews was inadmissible, after police notes were found to have been falsified.

Mr Murphy told reporters he was glad it was all over. He said he too would like to “find out who’s behind it” when asked for a comment on the fact no one has now been found guilty of carrying out the Omagh bombing.

The attack, just months after the historic Good Friday agreement in which unionists and nationalists agreed to set up a power sharing administration, was blamed on a breakaway dissident group of the IRA, styling itself the Real IRA.

The organisation, which claimed responsibility for killing two British soldiers last March, was set up to oppose Sinn Féin’s decision to give up the armed struggle and support the peace process. It was led by Michael McKevitt, a former IRA quartermaster, who was also the husband of Bernadette Sands, the sister of the iconic IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Mr McKevitt, who is currently in jail in the Republic on separate conspiracy charges, was named as Real IRA leader by a court last year when he and Mr Murphy – and two other men – were found liable for damages in a civil action taken by families of the victims. The Belfast high court awarded the families £1.6m ($2.6m).

The criminal investigation into Omagh has cost the Northern Ireland police £16m, making it one of the most costly police investigations in British legal history.

In 2007, the Northern Ireland police’s main suspect walked free after the judge criticised the “deeply disquieting and deliberate deception” in the police investigation. He also criticised the “slapdash” handling of forensic evidence.

The police case centred on prosecution claims fibres found in glue used to assemble power units could be linked to the accused. It relied heavily on a forensic technique known as low copy number DNA that allows a DNA profile to be uncovered even when there is only a tiny amount of DNA present, sometimes one millionth of the size of a salt grain.

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