Retrial for Omagh bomb suspect

Other News Materials 24 October 2007 02:11 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - A judge on Tuesday ordered a retrial for the only person convicted of involvement in the 1998 bombing in Omagh - the deadliest terror strike in Northern Ireland history.

High Court Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill rejected arguments that Colm Murphy, whose 2002 conviction was overturned on appeal in 2005, would be denied the right to a fair trial the second time around.

Lawyers for Murphy, 54, had argued in May that their client was suffering from memory loss caused by a 1988 car crash and thus could not testify about what he told police during an interrogation following the Omagh attack on Aug. 15, 1998.

On that day, Irish Republican Army dissidents opposed to Northern Ireland's peace process planted a 500-pound car bomb in the center of the religiously mixed town. The blast killed 29 people, mostly women and children, and injured hundreds.

Murphy received a 14-year prison sentence after judges accepted a case based on telephone records showing that cell phones he owned were used by the car-bomb gang.

But the conviction was successfully challenged when detectives who interrogated Murphy were found to have lied under oath about rewriting their notes of what he said while in custody.

Murphy's legal team then tried to block a retrial, citing a medical expert's claim that brain damage caused by the car crash meant he could not recall what he did and did not tell police during his 1998 questioning.

In his judgment Tuesday, O'Neill said Murphy was entitled in any retrial to cite his alleged brain damage as a reason why he couldn't answer a particular question.

"I am satisfied that the memory impairment which inflicted the applicant has not at all affected his ability to recall relevant events and in particular his participation in interviews with members of An Garda Siochana," the judge said, using the formal name for Ireland's national police force.

The judge said memory loss in no way undermined Murphy's right to a fair trial.

O'Neill also rejected Murphy's claim that the passage of time since the 1998 atrocity also meant a retrial would be unjust. He said Murphy and his legal team were principally to blame for legal delays since 2005.

Only one other person has been charged in connection with Omagh. Sean Hoey, a 38-year-old electrician suspected of being the bomb-maker, faces 59 criminal charges - including 29 counts of murder.

Hoey was arrested in September 2003 at his Northern Ireland border home in an operation involving hundreds of British troops and police in helicopters. His trial ended in January, but the Belfast judge who heard the case has yet to give his verdict.