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Long quest to bring Omagh bombers to justice

The latest twist in the hunt to catch the Omagh bombers comes 11 years after the long quest for justice began.

The criminal case against Colm Murphy fell just eight months after he and three other men were found liable of the atrocity in a landmark civil action taken by the bereaved relatives at the High Court in Belfast.

Twelve relatives were awarded £1.6 million when judge Mr Justice Morgan ruled that Murphy, Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Seamus Daly and the Real IRA as an organisation were responsible for the terrorist outrage.

While that verdict may have brought a form of closure to the families of those killed, the failure to prosecute Murphy in Dublin Special Criminal Court means the authorities are as far away from securing a conviction over the attack than at any time since that bloody day in August 1998.

Murphy was one of two men to face criminal charges. The other, Murphy's nephew Sean Hoey, was acquitted of the murders in Belfast Crown Court in December 2007.

The police were severely criticised for their handling of the case by the judge in that trial, and previously by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.

The following are the main events in the hunt for the Omagh killers:

1998

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

September 22 - the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and Irish Garda arrest 12 men in connection with the bombing. All are subsequently released without charge.

1999

February 25 - seven suspects are arrested and questioned.

February 28 - Colm Murphy, from Ravensdale, Co Louth, is charged with

conspiring to cause an explosion.

2000

October 9 - controversial BBC Panorama programme claims police on both sides of the border know who bombed Omagh and names four people it alleges are suspects.

October 28 - families of four of the 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 23 - Murphy is convicted by the Republic of Ireland's Special Criminal Court and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

2003

August 6 - Michael McKevitt is convicted in the Republic of Ireland's Special Criminal Court of membership of the Real IRA and "directing terrorism" between

August 29 1999 and October 23 2000. The prosecution case was based on the testimony of FBI informant David Rupert. McKevitt is sentenced to 20 years in prison.

2004

May - Liam Campbell jailed after being found guilty in Dublin Special Criminal Court of membership of the Real IRA.

2005

January - Murphy's conviction is quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal and a retrial ordered.

May 26 - Murphy's nephew, electrician 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 6 - Hoey's trial begins at Belfast Crown Court.

2007

December 20 - 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 was so contaminated during collection, transfer and storage as to render it useless.

2008

January 24 - Sir Ronnie Flanagan apologises to the victims' families for the lack of convictions in relation to the Omagh bombing.

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

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

August 15 - Series of memorial events held in Omagh to mark 10th anniversary of attack.

2009

March 26 - Civil action ends, having heard evidence in both Dublin and Belfast.

June 8 - Mr Justice Morgan finds Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt and three other men - Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly - responsible for the terrorist attack.

2010

February 24 - Judge in Dublin Special Criminal Court clears Murphy for a second time of plotting to cause the attack.

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