Only Ir­ish­man con­victed of Real IRA’s 1998 Omagh car-bomb mas­sacre ac­quit­ted in re­trial

Cape Breton Post - - CLASSIFIED -

DUBLIN, Ire­land (AP) — The only man ever con­victed of in­volve­ment in the 1998 car-bomb slaugh­ter in Omagh was ac­quit­ted Wed­nes­day in a re­trial judg­ment that an­gered the sur­vivors of North­ern Ire­land’s dead­li­est blast.

The three judges of Ire­land’s anti-ter­ror­ist Spe­cial Crim­i­nal Court ruled that po­lice had failed to col­lect suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence against Colm Mur­phy, 57 — and had fa­tally un­der­mined their case by il­le­gally rewrit­ing their records of Mur­phy’s al­leged ad­mis­sions un­der in­ter­ro­ga­tion.

Mur­phy, an Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army vet­eran once caught in an FBI sting try­ing to buy Amer­i­can ma­chine-guns, said out­side the court­house that he was “glad to see it’s all over.”

No­body has been suc­cess­fully pros­e­cuted for the Aug. 15, 1998, at­tack by the Real IRA splin­ter group in the heart of Omagh. Twenty-nine peo­ple, mostly women and chil­dren, died af­ter the 500-pound ( 225-kilo­gram) car bomb ripped through crowds of shop­pers, work­ers and tourists whom po­lice had evac­u­ated away from the town’s court­house, think­ing it was the tar­get.

Michael Gal­lagher, who lost his only son, Ai­den, in the bomb­ing, watched Mur­phy’s ac­quit­tal with what he de­scribed as a mix­ture of fa­mil­iar sad­ness and long-buried fury.

“ The fam­i­lies have been dis­ap­pointed time and time again, but when it hap­pens it is still hard,” said Gal­lagher, who at­tended Wed­nes­day’s court hear­ing. “I think this is the first time in years I feel an­gry.”

He noted that the Bri­tish and Ir­ish gov­ern­ments re­peat­edly vowed fol­low­ing the Omagh atroc­ity to catch and pun­ish the bombers, and U.S. Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton vis­ited the scene to of­fer Amer­i­can sup­port — yet jus­tice has never come.

In­stead, judges on both sides of the Ir­ish bor­der have blamed de­tec­tives for bungling their in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Po­lice in the Bri­tish ter­ri­tory of North­ern Ire­land tried to con­vict Mur­phy’s nephew Sean Hoey of man­u­fac­tur­ing sev­eral Real IRA bombs, in­clud­ing the one used in Omagh. But that case col­lapsed in 2007 when a Belfast judge re­jected the foren­sic ev­i­dence as un­re­li­able.

The main ev­i­dence against Mur­phy was the records of two cell­phones, which were tracked cross­ing the Ir­ish bor­der to Omagh and back on the day of the at­tack. He re­ceived a 14-year sen­tence in 2002 — even though the judges in that trial de­nounced two of the de­tec­tives who in­ter­ro­gated Mur­phy for ly­ing on the wit­ness stand.

Mur­phy’s lawyers suc­cess­fully ap­pealed the con­vic­tion three years later by demon­strat­ing that the two de­tec­tives had rewrit­ten their notes of Mur­phy’s al­leged state­ments in cus­tody. Ire­land’s Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peal freed Mur­phy on bail af­ter he had served three years of his sen­tence and or­dered a re­trial.

Labour Party jus­tice spokesman Pat Rab­bitte said it was “ bit­terly dis­ap­point­ing,” but not sur­pris­ing, that Mur­phy won his re­trial be­cause of the de­tec­tives’ shoddy work.

“ The les­son that must be learned is that, even in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the most heinous of­fences, in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers must re­main within the law and there can be no short cuts to con­vic­tions,” Rab­bitte said.

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