The quest to catch Omagh bombers

 

Ten years on from the Omagh bombing and the killers have still not been brought to justice.

Two men have gone on trial in connection with the attack but one, South Armagh electrician Sean Hoey, was acquitted and the other, Co Louth publican Colm Murphy, had his guilty verdict quashed.

Today it seems less likely than ever that anyone will ever will be convicted, with Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde admitting any further prosecutions are unlikely without new evidence coming to light.

The police have been severely criticised for their handling of the case by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman and a Crown Court judge.

A £14 million civil action taken by some of the Omagh families against five men they believe to be responsible got under way earlier this year at Belfast’s High Court, with a judgment expected in the autumn.

The following are the main events in the quest to catch the Omagh bombers:

1998

August 15th— 500lb Real IRA bomb explodes in Market Street, Omagh. Twenty nine die with more than 300 injured.

September 22th— the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Irish Garda arrest 12 men in connection with the bombing. All are subsequently released without charge.

1999

February 25th— seven suspects are arrested and questioned.

February 28th— Colm Murphy, from Ravensdale, County Louth, is charged with conspiring to cause an explosion.

2000

October 9th— controversial BBC Panoramaprogramme claims police on both sides of border know who bombed Omagh and names four people it alleges are suspects.

October 28th— families of four of bomb victims launch a £14 million civil action against Murphy and four others — Seamus McKenna, Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell and Seamus Daly.

All five lived in and around Dundalk in Co Louth at the time of the bombing.

2001

December— Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan publishes a report on the RUC investigation of the Omagh bomb. She accuses officers of ignoring previous warnings from informants that dissident republicans were planning an attack in Omagh. She recommends a fresh investigation into the case by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (the service had replaced the RUC in November 2001).

Senior RUC officers at the time of the bomb strongly refute her findings and former chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan issues 190 page counter-report in response.

2002

January 23rd— MR Murphy is convicted by the Republic of Ireland’s Special Criminal Court and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

2003

August 6th— Michael McKevitt is convicted in the Republic’s Special Criminal Court of membership of the Real IRA and “directing terrorism” between August 29th 1999 and October 23rd 2000. The prosecution case was based on the testimony of FBI informant David Rupert. McKevitt is sentenced to 20 years in prison.

2005

January— Mr Murphy’s conviction is quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal and a retrial ordered. A new trial date has yet to be set.

May 26th — Mr Murphy’s nephew, Sean Hoey, from Jonesborough, south Armagh, is charged with murdering 29 people at Omagh and involvement in a series of other Real IRA attacks.

2006

September 6th— Mr Hoey’s trial begins at Belfast Crown Court.


2007

December 20th— Mr Hoey is found not guilty of all 56 charges against him. Trial judge Mr Justice Weir heavily criticises RUC and PSNI handling of case.

He says much of the forensic evidence gathered at the bomb site had been so contaminated during collection, transfer and storage as to render it useless.

2008

January 24th— Sir Ronnie Flanagan apologises to the victims’ families for the lack of convictions in relation to the Omagh bombing.

February 7th— The Northern Ireland Policing Board appoints a panel of independent experts to re-review the police’s investigation of the bombing.

April 7th— Omagh families civil action against the Real IRA and the five named defendants commences at Belfast High Court.

PA