Omagh bombing: electrician charged

A man appeared in court in Northern Ireland yesterday charged in connection with the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people.

He was also charged with membership of the Real IRA, the dissident republican group which carried out the attack in the County Tyrone town. He is the first person to be charged in the province in relation to the bombing.

Sean Gerard Hoey, a 34-year-old unemployed electrician of Jonesborough, in South Armagh, was charged with 15 offences when he appeared at Craigavon Magistrates' Court.

The charge in relation to Omagh accused him of possessing "a timer power unit described as a Mark 19 model" with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property. The Omagh attack took place on 15 August 1998. Another charge brought yesterday relates to conspiracy to cause an explosion in the County Antrim town of Lisburn in April 1998.

Only one other man has been charged in connection with the Omagh bombing, and imprisoned. Colm Murphy, from South Armagh, was last year jailed for 14 years in the Irish Republic for conspiring to cause an explosion. A number of men believed to have been involved in the attack are in custody in connection with lesser offences. Last month Michael McKevitt, who led the Real IRA at the time of Omagh, was jailed for 20 years in Dublin for directing terrorism. He was not charged in relation to Omagh.

Michael Gallagher, whose son was killed in Omagh, was among relatives in the public gallery during yesterday's hearing. "It was difficult to watch a very insignificant person in the dock who is accused of destroying the lives of so many people," he said.

He said relatives intended to continue with plans to bring a civil action against five leading republicans, including McKevitt. The Government has donated £800,000 to make the action possible.

* David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist party leader, yesterday fended off another challenge from dissidents at a meeting of his party's ruling council. After winning a key vote by 443 votes to 359, his supporters said they were delighted with the result, which many observers had expected to be much closer.

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