Witness in Omagh bomb case retracts evidence

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A crucial prosecution witness in a case involving the Omagh bombing retracted his evidence suddenly yesterday, saying he had testified under pressure from Irish police.

Colm Murphy is on trial at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin on charges of conspiring to cause an explosion in August 1998, when a Real IRA bomb attack killed 29 people in the Co Tyrone town of Omagh.

Yesterday, Patrick Terence Morgan, a witness in the trial, indicated that he wished to withdraw evidence that Murphy had borrowed his mobile phone the day before the bombing.

The court was told that Mr Morgan, who is Mr Murphy's second cousin and was a bricklayer working for the accused's construction firm at the time of the bombing, had been on medication.

Mr Morgan told the court when he was recalled to the witness box that he had made a statement and later given evidence after Irish police put pressure on him. He said: "I can't sleep or live with myself for saying I gave the phone to him. I had to get it off my conscience. I told a lie."

Claiming he was threatened by police, he added: "I was put under pressure, they wanted evidence that I gave Colm Murphy the phone, which is not true. I did not give him the phone at all. It was in the van."

It had been alleged in court that Mr Murphy had given Mr Morgan's telephone, together with his own, to an associate of a high-ranking Real IRA figure. Both phones were said to have been used during the operation.

Mr Murphy is the only person to face charges connected with the Omagh bombing. Some weeks ago, a controversy broke out in Northern Ireland when it was alleged that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had not investigated properly the bomb attack, which is regarded as one of the worst incidents of the Troubles.

The Murphy prosecution has not gone smoothly. Two months ago the court ruled, after listening to expert witnesses, that interview notes submitted by a detective had been altered and that the officer was "guilty of patent falsification".

A judge described the conduct of two detectives as outrageous, saying they had been involved in persistent lying under cross-examination. The trial continued after the court ruled there was no evidence that other police interrogators were involved in falsification.