Friday, December 21, 2007

A judge has issued a ruling in the 1998 bombing in the Northern Ireland town of Omagh. Defendant Sean Hoey, who faced 56 charges relating to a car bomb that killed 29 people and injured more than 200, has been found not guilty.

A stunned silence in the public gallery of Belfast Crown Court greeted the verdict in the worst bombing during three decades of so-called troubles in Northern Ireland. Electrician Sean Hoey, 38, was accused of being the principle bomb-maker in a group of conspirators. Only one other person was charged in the case and he is awaiting retrial after having his conviction overturned.

Hoey was said to have been among those who broke away from the Irish Republican Army months after the Good Friday Peace Agreement was negotiated.

In summing up, Judge Reginald Weir said he was critical of forensic evidence presented by the prosecution that relied heavily on a new kind of DNA testing. He also criticized the police for how they handled and stored the evidence, with possible cross-contamination. The judge also singled out two police officers who he said had exaggerated in order to gain a conviction.

For families of the victims, it was a disappointment after waiting nearly a decade for justice. Lawrence Rush lost his wife in the blast. He was in the courthouse when the decision was announced.

“It is devastating,” he said. “It is a disaster the way that this investigation was held, and I can say no more about it. All I know is that I am tired, you know, and I am exhausted. It has been a long corridor, 10 years of pain and hope.

“The legal system is here to protect human rights,” said Victor Barker, who lost his son in the attack. “It is here to protect Sean Hoey’s human rights. I am a lawyer, I believe in the system. Sometimes I find it hard to live with, but I must stand by it because that is the system of justice which ordinary decent people in this country live by. It is only a great shame that my son and the 29 people that died in Omagh had no human right at all.”

Families of those killed are now calling for a full public inquiry into the bombing. It is also possible that a civil case may be pursued next year.

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