DUBLIN (AP) — The retrial began Tuesday of an Irish Republican Army veteran who was the only person convicted of involvement in the 1998 car-bomb attack on Omagh, the deadliest terror strike throughout the four-decade conflict in Northern Ireland.
Colm Murphy originally received a 14-year prison sentence in 2002, but a Dublin appeals judge three years later ordered a retrial after ruling that two of the six detectives who testified against Murphy had lied under oath.
As his second trial began, Murphy’s lawyer, Kevin O’Higgins, appealed to the three judges of the Special Criminal Court not to hear any evidence concerning the Omagh bomb itself. The Aug. 15, 1998, blast went off outside a shop filled with mothers buying school uniforms, and most of the dead were women and children.
O’Higgins argued that his 57-year-old client was charged with conspiring to cause an explosion but had no knowledge of what the IRA dissidents’ intended target was, therefore the carnage inflicted in Omagh was immaterial to the case. O’Higgins objected as state prosecutors began outlining the bomb’s destruction of lives and property.
Following his original 2001 trial, the same no-jury court convicted Murphy of supplying two mobile phones that police said were used by the bombers as they delivered the car bomb into central Omagh on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Police said records from mobile phone masts conclusively showed that Murphy’s two phones traveled from the Republic of Ireland across the border to Omagh, Northern Ireland, and back on the day of the attack.
The death toll was the worst in Northern Ireland history, in part, because police searching for the bomb unwittingly evacuated shoppers and shop workers directly toward it. The dead included three generations of one family, a woman 8 months pregnant with twins, and a Spanish exchange student and teacher.
Last year, Murphy was one of four alleged IRA dissidents who lost a landmark lawsuit in Belfast filed by 12 relatives of the Omagh dead. He and three other men convicted of dissident IRA activities were ordered to pay the victims 1.6 million pounds (more than $2.5 million), but they are appealing the judgment. It was the first time in Northern Ireland history that victims of terror had sued alleged members of an outlawed group for damages.
Murphy has served three prison sentences in Ireland and the United States for activities in the outlawed IRA and its breakaway factions. In 1983 he was caught in an FBI sting operation while trying to buy U.S. Army M60 heavy machine guns from an undercover officer and served half of a five-year sentence before being deported back to Ireland.
The IRA killed nearly 1,800 people during its failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. Dissident groups continue to mount occasional bombings and shootings in hope of unsettling the province’s 1998 peace accord and the Catholic-Protestant government it inspired.