Raucous applause for acquittal of bomb accused
Claire McNeilly talks to some of the Omagh bomb victims' relatives who had been hoping for some closure from yesterday's verdict
Seconds after yesterday's verdict acquitting Sean Hoey of any involvement in the Omagh bombing, raucous applause exploded from the public gallery.
More than 150 people - many of them his supporters - had descended on Belfast Crown Court to hear that, after a long-running trial, the 38-year-old electrician was a free man. He had denied a total of 56 charges, including 29 counts of murder, in Northern Ireland's worst terrorist atrocity.
And yesterday, dismissing every single one of them, Lord Justice Weir ruled that he was an innocent man.
Outside the court, in the midst of a media frenzy, some of the victims' relatives were visibly trying to come to terms with the not guilty verdict.
Some stepped forward to give their heartbroken reactions, many expressed mixed feelings - but there was widespread criticism and condemnation for the investigation which sealed yesterday's result.
Lawrence Rush, who lost his wife, Elizabeth (57), in the bombing, said that he accepted the judge's ruling, but criticised the way in which the investigation had been carried out.
"I feel devastated and stressed," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"You can ask me if I'm disappointed, but I don't want anyone who wasn't responsible to be punished for my wife's death. I think the judge was fair and honest."
But he added: "Plenty of stones have been left unturned. I don't think it was a serious investigation. It was a political situation. I don't know if I'll ever get any justice for my wife's death."
In total, 29 people - including a woman pregnant with twins - died in the bomb attack, which devastated the Co Tyrone town on August 15, 1998.
Michael Gallagher, whose son, Aidan (21), was among the victims, said he felt "unbelievable despair" and described the case as a disaster for the Omagh families.
" There have to be a lot of questions asked as to why this was allowed to go before the court when it wasn't fit to go before the court," he said.
"The police recommended the prosecution and the DPP allowed it to move forward, then they brought us all here for Christmas to get this news.
"It was despairing to hear the catalogue of errors and mistakes. We certainly want justice and will continue to pursue justice, but it would have been impossible to convict someone under those circumstances."
Mr Gallagher said that the criminal justice system had failed the victims of Omagh and he called for both the British and Irish governments to set up a full cross-border inquiry.
"They can no longer refuse to give families such an inquiry. This case has been a disgrace by any standards," he said.
Mr Gallagher added that the applause which rang out when Hoey was acquitted was "very, very insensitive" towards the Omagh victims.
English lawyer Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son, James, died in the attack, also hit out at what he described as a " deeply flawed" initial investigation.
"It is the appalling inefficiency of Sir Ronnie Flanagan that has meant Chief Superintendent Baxter has not been able to secure a conviction," he said.
"He (Sir Ronnie Flanagan) said he would fall on his sword if anything was wrong with this investigation - I will give him the sword."
Mr Barker, who was present in court yesterday, along with his wife and 13-year-old son, Oliver, said they were "very disappointed" at the judge's decision which had to be based on the evidence put before him.
Mr Barker appealed to organisations such as the Real IRA to put the past behind them or there would be "no future for this island".
Another relative who was there to hear Mr Justice Weir deliver his verdict was Stanley McCombe, whose wife, Ann (48), was another of the Omagh victims.
He said that he was shocked by the decision.
"I'm flabbergasted, dumbfounded," he said.
"I do not know what to think. All the resources over the last nine and a half years have not got us anywhere."