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Ireland: Only Conviction in Omagh Bombing Overturned

(Mar. 26, 2010) On August 15, 1998, a bomb killed 29 persons in the Northern Irish town of Omagh, just north of the United Kingdom's border with the Republic of Ireland. A group known as the Real IRA claimed responsibility for the atrocity, but stated that its target was “commercial” and that it had not aimed to kill innocent civilians. (Real IRA Apologises for Omagh, BBC NEWS, Aug. 18, 1998, available at A number of persons were apprehended and charged with crimes in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in connection with the bombing.

However, only one person was ever convicted of an offense in the case and that person's conviction has recently been overturned by Ireland's Special Criminal Court. Ireland's Offenses Against the State Act, 1939 (No. 13/1939), ss. 35-54, IRISH STATUTE BOOK, available at provides for the creation of a Special Criminal Court in which persons suspected of terrorism can be tried by three judges sitting without a jury. (Courts Service of Ireland, Special Criminal Court, http://
(last visited Mar. 2, 2010.).)

In 2002, the Dublin-based Special Criminal Court convicted Colm Murphy of participating in the plot on the basis of his own admissions and mobile phone records. (Dissident Guilty in Omagh Bomb Plot, BBC NEWS, Jan. 22, 2002, available at However, in 2005 the Irish Court of Criminal Appeal directed a retrial on the grounds that the Special Criminal Court had improperly heard evidence of Murphy's previous criminal convictions and that two detectives had apparently fabricated evidence by improperly adding admissions to Murphy's statement. (D.P.P. v. Colm Murphy, [2005] IECCA 1, British and Irish Legal Information Institute [BAILII] website, Jan. 21, 2005, available at (last visited Mar. 24, 2010).)

On February 24, 2010, the Special Criminal Court dismissed the charges against Murphy, holding that his statements could not be used in evidence and that the mobile phone records did not prove his guilt. Thus, no one stands convicted of any crime in connection with the worst bombing attack in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, and further prosecutions seem unlikely. However, in Northern Ireland, families of the victims have been awarded damages in a civil action. (Murphy Acquittal 'Blow' for Omagh Families, RTE NEWS, Feb. 24, 2010, available at In Breslin & Ors v McKenna & Ors (Omagh Bombing case) ([2009] NIQB 50 (June 8, 2009), BAILII website, available at, the Real IRA, Murphy, and three others were found liable and were ordered to pay approximately US$2.4 million in damages to the families who brought the civil action against them. (Omagh Families Win Damages Case, CNN.COM, June 9, 2009, available at