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Case Collapses Against Final Suspect in Northern Ireland's Deadliest Terrorist Attack

The 1998 Omagh bombing was the largest atrocity in three decades of sectarian violence and killed 29 people. Seamus Daly, the final suspect, was released from prison on Tuesday.

by Sally Hayden
Mar 1 2016, 4:00pm

Seamus Daly is photographed as he leaves Maghaberry prison in Northern Ireland. Photo by Peter Morrison/AP

Charges have been dropped against the only remaining suspect in the Omagh bombing, the largest mass murder carried out in Northern Ireland during the 30 years of sectarian conflict known as "the Troubles." 

International human rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday also repeated its call for a full inquiry into the blast and the investigative failures that followed it.

A total of 29 people died when a 500lb bomb exploded in Omagh town center on Saturday August 15, 1998, in an attack that was carried out by the Real IRA.

Former bricklayer Seamus Daly, 44, was arrested in South Armagh, Northern Ireland, in 2014 and has been in custody since. On Tuesday, Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service dropped 29 murder charges against Daly, reportedly on the basis of "insufficient evidence."

The Good Friday peace agreement was signed just four months before the bombing. Ratified in a referendum in May 1998, it helped end decades of violence between Republicans — the majority of whom were Catholics — and Unionists — the majority of whom were Protestants. The two sides were fighting for the future of Northern Ireland and whether it would remain in the United Kingdom or join the Republic of Ireland. More than 3,600 people were killed across the 30 years of violence.

Related: Body of IRA Kidnapping Victim Brendan Megraw Found After 36 Years

The Omagh attack happened at a time when an end was in sight for the many civilians whose lives had been marred by conflict. Those who died in the attack on the town in County Tyrone included a pregnant woman whose twins were almost at full term. Three generations of one family were among the dead, including an 18-month-old, while 15 of those killed were under the age of 21; the oldest was 66. Two Spanish students from Madrid were also killed, along with three of the students who were hosting them.

In 2009, four men were held responsible for the bombing in a civil case brought by victims' families. However, no one has yet been found guilty in a criminal court. In 2007, Sean Hoey, an electrician from south Armagh, was acquitted of murder after a judge criticized police evidence, saying the investigation was "seemingly thoughtless and slapdash."

On Tuesday, Daly was facing charges of possessing the bomb and causing the explosion, along with the murder charges. He was also charged in relation to another dissident republican bomb plot in Lisburn, County Antrim, in April 1998.

Daly denied his involvement in both plots after his arrest, while his lawyers argued that much of the evidence against him was weak or had been discredited.

Former suspect Seamus Daly. (Photo by Paul McErlane/EPA) 

Speaking about the case, Michael Gallagher, a campaigner for the Omagh victims, told the Guardian that "barring a road-to-Damascus conversion and a confession by the bombers themselves, those behind the Omagh bomb plot have got away with it."

Gallagher's son Aidan, 21, was among those killed in the blast. A mechanic, Aidan had taken the day off work to go shopping, according to an Independent report from the time.

"The chances of a successful criminal prosecution against the Omagh bombers is very, very low after this," Gallagher said, speaking to the Guardian on his way to a court in Ballymena, County Antrim, where the news would be confirmed. 

Gallagher called for a full all-Ireland independent inquiry into the attack, which he said the campaigners "have been demanding for years."

"We won't stop fighting for this inquiry but it has to be said that in terms of the innocent victims of the Troubles, the way the Omagh investigation has gone indicates that they won't get justice either. It is very depressing," he added.

Related: The Republic's Dissident Youth: Ireland's Young Warriors

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

United Kingdom
war and conflict
Northern Ireland
The Troubles
omagh bombing