BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 20 December 2007, 17:51 GMT
Omagh case review after verdict
A court artist's drawing of Sean Hoey
Sean Hoey did not give evidence at his trial
As Sean Hoey is cleared of the murders of the 29 people who died in the Omagh bomb, BBC Newsline's Chris Buckler looks back at one of the largest ever cases in UK legal history.

On the first day of the trial in September 2006 the prosecution said they would use forensic evidence, voice analysis and similarities between the bombings to link Sean Hoey to the then 58 charges against him.

Each of the series of attacks formed building blocks to make a case against the defendant.

But in the weeks that followed much of the evidence was discredited. Some of it simply disappeared.

At the heart of the case were the bomb timers used in the attacks.

Forensic scientists had examined them for both fibres and Low Copy Number (LCN) DNA.

LCN is a relatively recent development of DNA science which allows analysis of tiny samples of skin cells, sweat and other bodily fluids.

Forensic tests

The prosecution claimed that the forensic examination had shown links to the south Armagh electrician.

One of their expert witnesses claimed the chances of the DNA being anyone other than Mr Hoey's were "one in a billion".

But the LCN DNA results were challenged by defence experts who claimed that the scientific community is "divided" over whether the technique itself is reliable.

Even one of the prosecution experts admitted that there was still "a lot of confusion" about the science.

What is widely accepted is that in LCN analysis the exhibits have to be handled with particular care, otherwise they could become contaminated with other people's DNA.

Those forensic precautions were not routinely taken at the time the evidence was gathered and examined - something several witnesses admitted in court.

Some items became mislabelled in police stores while other evidence was simply lost.

A policeman and scenes of crime officer who did initially claim they had taken those precautions at the scene of one attack, subsequently admitted they had "beefed-up" their statements.

That led the judge, Mr Justice Weir, to call for an inquiry into how and why their statements had been changed.

And there were other serious questions raised about the handling of exhibits.

Some items became mislabelled in police stores while other evidence was simply lost.

It also proved difficult to track many items - one scenes of crime officer told the court that a police store was "a complete mess".

There were revelations which posed further questions.

One exhibit - a bomb timer - had pieces of tape added to it between being examined in Northern Ireland and checked for LCN DNA in a Birmingham laboratory.

It could not be explained how that had happened.

'Guess work'

The prosecution also faced setbacks in presenting their case.

The opinions and conclusions of one of their "expert witnesses" were never officially heard by the court.

The forensic scientist had sought to show similarities in the construction and soldering of timer power units used in the attacks Sean Hoey was charged with.

But the trial judge ruled he could not be regarded as an expert in that particular field.
Twenty-nine people died in Omagh bombing in August 1998
Twenty-nine people died in the Omagh bombing
Mr Justice Weir said much of the scientist's conclusions were based on guesswork and that he could guess "just as well" as him.

Although tellingly at the time the judge indicated it was unlikely that he would be persuaded to guess.

The prosecution's voice analysis expert never even entered the witness box - the lawyers effectively withdrawing this evidence before it could enter the trial.

The case built against Sean Hoey was complicated.

Some evidence was introduced to try to link him directly to attacks.

Other evidence tried to show connections between different bombings.

As those individual links broke down so did the prosecution case.


Sean Hoey Why case unravelled
Kevin Connolly examines the Omagh bomb trial









Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific