One of the biggest mass murder trials in British or Irish history got under way in Belfast yesterday, eight years after 29 people died in the Omagh bombing.
A south Armagh man is charged with the murders of the 29, who included a woman pregnant with twins. He also faces 29 further terrorist charges relating to other bombings and conspiracies.
In an unusual move, the proceedings are to be relayed to Omagh from the Belfast court by closed-circuit television link so that relatives from the Co Tyrone town need not make the 70-mile journey each day. The trial is expected to last for three months.
The bomb attack by the Real IRA in August 1998 has already had a variety of legal sequels, with several of those suspected of involvement jailed for various offences. But no one has been convicted of the actual murders. The defendant is Sean Gerard Hoey, 37, of Jonesborough. He denies all of the charges.
Opening the prosecution case, Gordon Kerr QC said that the court would be told about forensic evidence concerning the construction of car bombs, and about claims of responsibility involving a recognised republican dissident code word.
Mr Kerr said all but two of the devices linked to the charges used "Mark 19 timer power units" (TPUs). This formed a series from which it could be concluded that the units were all built by the same person, he said.
Fibre evidence would also be used to show a connection between the TPUs at the time of their construction, he added. Mr Kerr said: "The prosecution will say that evidence from forensic witnesses dealing with the construction of the TPUs and the fibre evidence are mutually supportive and will persuade the court of the intimate connection between this series of devices, which includes the horrific explosion which took place in Omagh."
He detailed a series of other attacks in which Mr Hoey is accused of involvement, which he said had used similar TPUs. These included mortar attacks on security bases at Crossmaglen and Forkhill, and car bombs planted at Newry, Armagh and Lisburn.
Mr Kerr said the explosion had devastating effects: "Even those who escaped physical harm suffered severe and lasting trauma."
He said three telephoned warnings received before the bomb went off were "not only wrong but were meaningless. It would be argued, he said, that the warnings given made it inevitable that any evacuation would be to "the very area of the parked car bomb".
If the bombers had genuinely wished to avoid deaths and injury, they could easily have given a description of the vehicle and an accurate description of its location, as they had done in previous bombings, he said.
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