Murphy acquitted over Omagh bombing

Thu, Feb 25, 2010, 00:00

COLM MURPHY walked free from the Special Criminal Court in Dublin yesterday after he was cleared at a retrial of a conspiracy charge in relation to the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people and injured more than 300.

Mr Murphy said after being acquitted of the charge: “I am glad to see it’s all over. Find out who was behind it – MI5 agents setting people up.” The three-judge non-jury court ruled that there was no evidence upon which the court could have convicted Mr Murphy after it ruled that all the evidence of 15 Garda interviews with him following his arrest in February 1999 was inadmissible.

The court ruled that the falsification of Garda interview notes which emerged at the original trial in 2002 had “tainted” all the Garda interviews and Mr Murphy must be given the benefit of the doubt.

His retrial was ordered after the Court of Criminal Appeal found that the trial court had failed to give proper regard to altered Garda interview notes and that there had been “an invasion of the presumption of innocence” in the judgment on Mr Murphy.

Det Garda John Fahy and Det Garda Liam Donnelly were charged with forgery and perjury after the original trial, but both gardaí were acquitted of the charges and Det Garda Donnelly has since died.

Mr Murphy’s counsel, Michael O’Higgins, had applied to the court after a 20-day trial for a direction to acquit his client because there was not enough evidence to convict him.

Mr Murphy, a 57-year-old native of Co Armagh, with an address at Jordan’s Corner, Ravensdale, Co Louth, had pleaded not guilty to conspiring with another person to cause an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property in the State or elsewhere between August 13th and 16th, 1998.

The prosecution had claimed that he lent two mobile phones to a man who was involved in transporting the car bomb from Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, to Omagh, where it exploded on August 15th, 1998, killing 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injuring more than 300.

The Real IRA later claimed responsibility for the bomb attack. Mr Murphy was originally convicted of the charge in 2002 but the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial in 2005.

Delivering the court’s ruling, Mr Justice Paul Butler, presiding, said that the principal evidence for the prosecution arose from a series of interviews with gardaí conducted while Mr Murphy was in custody in Monaghan in February 1999.

He said that the court could not speculate as to why, when or where the Fahy and Donnelly interview notes were falsified.

“The fact that the notes of the interview conducted by Detective Garda Donnelly and Detective Garda Fahy were falsified, combined with the fact that there is no explanation in relation thereto, and the fact that this was part of a series of interviews being conducted by three teams of two gardaí each, does, we find, taint all of the interviews, and by reason of the fact that the onus of proof is on the prosecution and the accused is entitled to the benefit of any doubt that arises, he must be given the benefit of the doubt in this regard.”

The judge said the court was satisfied that the all the interview evidence was inadmissible but also wanted to make clear that it was making no finding in relation to the credibility of the other interviewing gardaí.