Omagh bomb case against Seamus Daly collapses
Criminal charges against Omagh bomb suspect Seamus Daly have been dramatically dropped by the Public Prosecution Service.
Daly, a 45 year-old bricklayer, had been charged with murdering 29 people in the single biggest atrocity of Northern Ireland’s troubles.
The evidence linking him to the dissidents' Omagh bombing was described as overwhelming by one of Northern Ireland's most senior judicial figures during a claim for damages by grieving relatives.
However, the PPS told a court today that a decision had been taken to withdraw the prosecution case following concerns over the reliability of the evidence provided by the main witness.
Daly is expected to walk free later today from Maghaberry Prison, where he was on remand.
He was held in prison awaiting trial for nearly two years.
His defence had protested throughout lengthy legal proceedings that he had no case to answer.
And when the evidence against him was tested last month and prosecution star witness Denis O'Connor contradicted himself under cross-examination, it became clear the accusations were crumbling.
The case against Daly had relied upon the movements of a mobile phone, which prosecuters believed had been used by one of the bombers on the day of the 1998 bombing.
A civilian witness was allegedly able to place that mobile phone in Daly’s hands around the time of the attack.
However, concerns were raised over the reliability of the witness’s testimony under cross examination during a preliminary enquiry last week.
Mr Daly's lawyer, Peter Corrigan, said the case against his client was paper-thin and based upon a witness who was himself arrested as part of the bombing probe.
He claimed Mr O'Connor gave an account to Irish police in 1999 and had given three or four other versions.
The implication was clear - his words could not be relied upon.
Mr Corrigan also said his client had an alibi for the time when he was supposed to be involved in murder.
He insisted the evidence was stale and could have been presented to his client at any time in recent years.
The bricklayer's militant republicanism stretches back to at least 2004 when he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in the Republic after admitting membership of the outlawed Real IRA which carried out the Omagh attack.
But convicting him of a string of murders in a Co Tyrone market town which shocked the world just months after the landmark Good Friday peace agreement was to prove a hurdle too high.
Two Belfast civil cases, one in 2009 and a retrial in 2013, only had to prove on the balance of probabilities that the respondents were behind the bombing.
In 2013 Justice Gillen concluded that the evidence against Mr Daly and three others was overwhelming.
The judge in the original civil case said he was satisfied that Mr Daly was in possession of one of the two phones which, trace records indicate, were used by the occupants of the bomb car and the getaway car on the day of the attack.
He said the fact that Mr Daly had provided no answer to the evidence presented before the court further supported suspicions.
A one-month retrial of the civil case was shown data from mobile phone masts that tracked calls made from two phones as they moved from the Irish Republic to Omagh and back across the border ahead of the bomb attack on August 15 1998.
But criminal prosecutors had to establish Mr Daly's guilt beyond all reasonable doubt and on Tuesday that barrier was judged too high.
Upon reviewing the evidence a decision was taken by the PPS not to seek the return of Daly for Crown Court trial.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC believed that the available evidence no longer provided a reasonable prospect of conviction.
Following the collapse of the case the PPS said the decision had been taken "following a careful review of the current state of the evidence."
"This has focused in particular on the testimony provided by a key witness during committal proceedings last week," a PPS spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added: "Under cross examination a number of issues became apparent which impacted upon the reliability of the evidence that the witness was providing.
"Having conducted a careful review of the case with the prosecution team, the Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC has concluded that the available evidence no longer provides a reasonable prospect of a conviction. Consequently the prosecution cannot be continued."
The PPS said they sympathised with the families affected by the Omagh bomb.
The spokesperson continued: "We understand how difficult this decision will be for them. We hope they are assured that this decision was not taken lightly but is required in accordance with our duty as prosecutors to keep a decision under review and to discontinue criminal proceedings when the test for prosecution is no longer met."
Charges of conspiring to cause an explosion and having explosives with intent in connection with a separate dissident republican bomb plot in Lisburn in April 1998 were also dropped.
Speaking ahead of the announcement Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed, said he was unhappy that information was circulating about the collapse of the case, yet he and other families had not been informed by the authorities.
"We have been failed once again by the police service, by the prosecution service, by the government and by the criminal justice system," he said.
Seven years ago, Daly was one of four men successfully sued for bombing the market town when he was found liable for the attack in a landmark civil case taken out by some of the bereaved families.
No-one has ever been convicted of the murders in a criminal court.
Daly has always denied involvement in the bombing, which inflicted the greatest loss of life of any terror atrocity in the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
The dead came from both sides of the Irish border, England and Spain. One of the victims was pregnant with twins.
Belfast Telegraph Digital