Omagh inquest hears police tape of explosion

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A dramatic tape-recording from police radios in the moments before and after the Omagh bomb explosion was played at the inquest into the atrocity yesterday.

A dramatic tape-recording from police radios in the moments before and after the Omagh bomb explosion was played at the inquest into the atrocity yesterday.

The court, sitting in Omagh, heard a faint noise of the bomb detonating, and the anxious voice of a police constable who witnessed the blast saying: "This has exploded". A sergeant, with similar urgency in his voice, was then heard to say: "Oscar, need assistance to the bottom of the town."

The excerpts came on the third day of the inquest into the killing of 29 people by a car bomb planted by the Real IRA, a dissident republican terrorist group, in Omagh town centre in August 1998. In terms of the number killed, it was the worst atrocity of the Troubles.

The inquest, being held at Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone, was also shown photographs of the makeshift morgues where more than a dozen corpses were laid out in rows under blood-soaked sheets, tarpaulin and curtain fabric. Most relatives left the court to avoid seeing them.

Earlier in yesterday's hearing, there were renewed disputes over a tough line of questioning being pursued by two defence barristers with the police, and the status of two republicans allegedly linked to the Real IRA.

John Leckey, the coroner, disappointed some relativesby refusing to call Francis Mackey, chairman of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, or Colm Murphy, the onlyperson charged in connection with the attack.

Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Adrian in the attack, alleged in an application to the inquest that Mr Mackey and other named individuals were "inextricably linked" to the Real IRA, and should give evidence about the attack.

Mr Leckey said this was "speculation". He added: "Without an evidential basis there is nothing before me which leads me to conclude that Mr Mackey needs to be called to give evidence." But the coroner added that he had approached both Mr Mackey and Mr Murphy, who lives in Co Louth, in the Irish Republic, to see if they wished to appear since they had been named in a pre-hearing by the relatives. Neither man replied to his invitation.

In a further dispute, two barristers acting for groups of victims' families were accused by other lawyers acting for Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC Chief Constable, of "impugning the conduct" of police officers dealing with the bombing.

Stephen Ritchie, the barrister acting for Sir Ronnie, asked Mr Leckey to rule on the scope of the inquest after concerns emerged among police at the aggressive questioning of police witnesses on Wednesday and Thursday.

Michael Mansfield QC and Barry Fox, a local solicitor, had raised concerns about the police reaction to the original bomb warning. This line of questioning, Mr Ritchie said, "is to impugn the conduct of police officers dealing with this emergency". Mr Leckey said he would rule on the issue only if Mr Ritchie raised concerns about a fresh line of questioning.

During Thursday afternoon's hearing, the court had been told that the 25 officers involved in clearing the streets were told to look out for a car possibly weighted down by a bomb of about 500lb. Police radio transmissions included officers talking about the problems of controlling crowds and finding people still in flats on the main street minutes before the bomb detonated.

The inquest continues next week.