Families are dismayed as Omagh bomb case collapses
Hopes of justice for the victims of the Omagh bomb are in tatters following the collapse of the criminal case against suspect Seamus Daly.
In a dramatic development yesterday, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) withdrew its case against Daly, who had been charged with murdering 29 people in the single biggest atrocity of the Troubles.
Concerns over a number of discrepancies in the evidence of the prosecution's key witness led to a decision by Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory to halt the case.
Mr McGrory found that the evidence against Daly no longer provided "a reasonable prospect of a conviction".
However, he insisted last night that the PPS and police were determined to take forward the prosecution of those responsible for the bombing "if any new evidence becomes available."
Mr McGrory added: "I have great sympathy with the families affected by the Omagh bomb, and I share their disappointment that we are in a position where we are unable to progress this prosecution."
The collapse of the case, 11 years after south Armagh electrician Sean Hoey was found not guilty of the murders following a marathon trial, has added to the anguish of the Omagh families.
Many now believe no one will be held accountable.
Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Aiden in the 1998 massacre in the Co Tyrone market town, said the collapsed case was probably the last chance for justice.
"Here we are again after 18 years," he said.
"I'm extremely disappointed. We've been let down by the police service, by the PPS, by the criminal justice system. And this is probably, or was probably, the last chance for justice."
However, he also said that he agreed with the PPS's decision to drop the case.
"This was a difficult case and hinged on the testimony of one individual, and that one individual did not seem to be up to meeting the test needed to put someone behind bars," Mr Gallagher said.
"For that reason I agree with the decision, regrettably. There was no other option for the PPS or the judge but to deliver the verdict that we have just heard."
The case was formally withdrawn during a brief mention at Ballymena Magistrates Court yesterday.
Daly, who was not present for the formalities, was later released from Maghaberry Prison, where he had been on remand for two years.
The case against him had relied upon the movements of a mobile phone, which prosecutors believed had been used by one of the bombers on the day of the Real IRA attack.
A civilian witness was allegedly able to place that mobile phone in Daly's hands at around the time of the attack.
However, concerns were raised over the reliability of the witness's testimony under cross-examination during a pre-trial hearing last week.
Upon reviewing the evidence, a decision was taken by the PPS not to seek the return of Daly for Crown Court trial.
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.
"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, concluded that the available evidence no longer provides a reasonable prospect of a conviction. Consequently, the prosecution cannot be continued."
The PPS said it sympathised with the families affected by the Omagh bomb.
The spokesperson added: "We understand how difficult this decision will be for them.
"We hope that they are assured that this decision was not taken lightly, but was 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.
In 2009 Daly and three others were ordered to pay £1.6m in damages to the bereaved relatives - money the families are still pursuing.
Daly faced a civil retrial after successfully appealing against the original finding, but the second trial delivered the same outcome as the first, with Mr Justice John Gillen ruling him responsible for the attack.
No one has ever been convicted of the murders in a criminal court.