Suspected Real IRA bomb-maker to stand trial in Belfast accused of Omagh massacre

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Sean Hoey, 36, an electrician from South Armagh, was told by the Belfast magistrate Desmond Perry that after hearing three days of evidence at committal proceedings he was satisfied there was a case to answer.

Mr Hoey was remanded in custody to stand trial at Belfast Crown Court at a date to be decided. The trial is not expected to take place before spring next year.

Mr Hoey faces 58 charges relating to the Omagh bombing in 1998 and a string of other bomb attacks by the Real IRA. Three further charges relating to a bombing in Belfast were dismissed by the magistrate.

Mr Perry said: "The Crown invited me to look at the cumulative effect of the huge quantity of evidence that the defendant was the man who manufactured these 14 devices, the most devastating of which decimated the centre of Omagh and resulted in the tragic deaths of 29 innocent people." After dismissing defence efforts to have each charge looked at separately as "fatuous", Mr Perry said: "I am satisfied there is a case to answer."

The court had been told that Mr Hoey could be linked by fibre evidence to eight bombs and to three more by DNA evidence, for which, the magistrate said, he could find "no innocent explanation". Mr Perry noted that Mr Hoey was an electrician by trade and said there had been evidence that bombs made in Northern Ireland had soldering of a higher standard than those made by the Real IRA in other jurisdictions.

He said that "indicated some degree of expertise".

Mr Hoey stood expressionless in the dock, shaking his head and mouthing the word "No" when asked if he had anything to say.

The court decision was welcomed by relatives of some of those killed in the bombing as a great relief.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the bombing, sat through the three days of committal proceedings with his wife.

"We look forward to the start of the trial next year," Mr Gallagher said. "These last three days have been very, very difficult and I felt very nervous. It is a tremendous relief to know that at least one person is going to stand trial. I hope it is only a beginning and others will be brought to justice."

He expressed particular thanks to Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter of the Police Service of Northern Ireland for the huge amount of work that he and his team had done to bring the charges.

Mr Gallagher was less impressed with police in the Irish Republic and the lack of charges against suspects there. "The bomb team came from there and I am going to continue to press the Irish government to put more effort into the case," said Mr Gallagher.

Laurence Rush, whose wife was killed in the Omagh bombing, said: "This is one hurdle we have got over. I am very happy. I am very relieved that there is at least one person going to stand trial for the murder of my wife." He said it had been very difficult sitting in court. "Memories just flooded back into my mind of that disaster taking place."