No evidence directly linking Hoey with Omagh bombing

The man accused of 1998 atrocity cannot be directly connected to it, except possibly via other bombings, writes Eamon McCann

The case against the man accused of multiple murder in the Omagh bombing depends on linking him with other bombings which the prosecution says can in turn be linked with Omagh.

During a committal hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court this week, no evidence was offered directly connecting electrician Sean Hoey, 36, from Jonesborough in Armagh, with the blast in August 1998, which left 29 dead and hundreds injured.

The prosecution relied on forensic testimony, which it said linked Hoey to devices used in a spate of Real IRA bombings in the four months before Omagh, and on similarities between the Omagh bomb and these others.

On Wednesday, 31 August, voice analyst Frederica Holmes testified that Hoey was "more likely than not" the man who had made a warning call about a bomb which exploded in Banbridge, Co Down, on 1 August 1998, a fortnight before the Omagh bombing. Crown lawyer Gordon Kerr conceded that this was "the only direct link to Banbridge."

Responding to defence barrister Martin O'Rourke, Holmes described the recording of the bomb call as "relatively poor but adequate," and put her level of confidence in identifying Hoey as "more likely than not."

A second voice expert, Dr John Peter French, who had also examined the tapes on behalf of the prosecution, was not called. French's report, which has been seen by Village, noted that "there are certainly similarities" between recordings of Hoey and the Banbridge bomb call, but "there are also differences."

"The most that I can say is that I consider it an open possibility that the caller in each case is Hoey," he concluded.

"I am unable to assess the number of other speakers of similar regional and social background who might approximate as closely as Hoey to the phonetic and acoustic features found in the questioned calls," added French.

The prosecution has produced evidence that wool fibres found in the Banbridge device connect it to other bombs in the 1998 series, although it is not part of its case that these fibres can be shown to have come from Hoey.

On Wednesday, the prosecution withdrew plans to call PSNI intelligence officer Lisa Parnell to give evidence about phone calls allegedly made by Hoey on the day of the Omagh attack. Ms Parnell had given evidence in the case at the Special Criminal Court in 2001, which ended with the conviction of Colm Murphy for the Omagh bombing. That conviction was quashed last January after it emerged that two Garda special branch officers had falsified evidence against Murphy.

It is understood that Ms Parnell's evidence, relating to the tracking of mobile phones from mast to mast over the hours leading up to the blast, is key to a civil case being taken by relatives of the 29 murder victims against a number of alleged members of the Real IRA. The civil case is in abeyance pending the outcome of the prosecution of Hoey and the retrial of Murphy.

Hoey is not named in the relatives' case.