The first person to be convicted in connection with the 1998 Omagh bombing was sentenced yesterday to 14 years in prison by the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.
Colm Murphy, 49, from South Armagh, was appearing for sentence after being convicted by the three judges on Tuesday of conspiring to cause the Real IRA bomb explosion that killed 29 people in the Co Tyrone town in August 1998.
He was said to have provided mobile phones used by the two-vehicle bomb team as it made its way from the Irish Republic to Omagh. At first impassive in the dock, he gave a soft gasp as the judge pronounced sentence.
No one has been convicted in Northern Ireland in connection with the bombing. The Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, and the police ombudsman remain locked in controversy over the conduct of the RUC investigation and other issues. Relatives of the Omagh dead have indicated they are unconvinced by the explanation given to them by Sir Ronnie during a lengthy meeting on Thursday.
Yesterday Sir Ronnie received support from elements of the police community, with the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, saying it had lost confidence in the ombudsman. The federation, with the Superintendents Association, called for the establishment of another independent office.
Passing sentence on Murphy, Mr Justice Robert Barr described him as a long-time republican extremist. He said: "Those who planted the bomb, and Murphy as a back-up or service provider, must have realised that the operation to plant the bomb was fraught with danger and risked death and injury to many.
"The court accepts that the perpetrators of the Omagh bomb probably did not intend to cause death. However, at best, death and injury must have been a high risk factor."
In submissions to the court before sentencing, Murphy's counsel, Michael O'Higgins, said his client maintained his innocence and his conviction was a miscarriage of justice. He said Murphy had no hand, act or part in the outrage at Omagh, and he pointed out that, even in interviews relied on by the state, Murphy is quoted a saying that Omagh was "a disaster, a tragedy and an outrage".
Mr O'Higgins said Murphy was a "long, long way from the centre of the Omagh conspiracy. He didn't plan the bomb, he wasn't a member of the Real IRA who claimed responsibility." He said Murphy was someone from outside that group.
Speaking outside the court, Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed at Omagh, said the sentence sent a clear warning to others involved in the bombing. He said: "We hope that the message to come out of the court today is that if you end up here, and we hope very much that you do, you will get what you deserve."
Kevin Skelton, whose wife died in the bombing, said he was delighted that someone had been convicted. He added: "Hopefully this is the start of bringing all the people that were involved in the Omagh bombing to justice."
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