Page last updated at 21:28 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Omagh case officers 'did not lie'

By Vincent Kearney
Home affairs correspondent

Aftermath of Omagh bomb
The trial judge was critical of the investigation into the bombing

Two police officers who were accused of lying during the Omagh bomb trial have been cleared of any criminal conduct.

The trial judge said Philip Marshall and Fiona Cooper had engaged in "deliberate and calculated deception".

Mr Justice Weir took the unusual step of asking the police ombudsman to investigate their conduct.

The BBC understands the ombudsman and public prosecution service concluded there was no evidence to support the claim that they deliberately lied.

The police were strongly criticised at the end of the trial, when south Armagh electrician Sean Hoey was acquitted of the 29 murders and involvement in a series of other attacks.

Forensic

The trial judge launched a withering critique of aspects of the investigation and the way forensic evidence had been handled, describing the approach of the police as "seemingly thoughtless and slapdash".

He singled out two police witnesses, Phillip Marshall and Fiona Cooper, who had helped gather some of the forensic evidence.

They told the court that they had worn protective clothing, including a forensic suit, overshoes, face masks and two pairs of gloves, when gathering evidence after a mortar bomb was discovered in a forest near Dungannon.

But under cross-examination by defence lawyers, the officers said they may have been mistaken.

They were also accused of "beefing up" their statements to say they had taken forensic precautions.

At that point Mr Justice Weir referred their evidence to the Police Ombudsman's office for investigation and, at the end of the trial, the judge said he believed there had been "deliberate and calculated deception".

Examining

Police sources at the time suggested the inconsistencies in the officers' evidence had been the result of poor preparation and inexperience in court proceedings - and not the result of a conspiracy.

Investigators from the ombudsman's office spent more than 18 months examining their evidence and conduct.

I understand that the investigators concluded there was no evidence to support the claim that the two officers deliberately lied.

Based on the report, I understand that the Public Prosecution Service has also decided there was not sufficient evidence to charge the officers with perjury.

While this decision will be welcomed by the two officers and the police, it will not have any impact on the investigation into the biggest atrocity of the troubles.

It is as unlikely today as it was on the day the trial ended that anyone will ever be convicted for the murders of 29 people in Omagh almost 11 years ago.

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Vincent Kearney's report for BBC Newsline



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