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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Omagh Police 'conspirators' to be cleared

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

The Northern Ireland Policing Ombudsman is expected to clear two officers of a conspiracy to deceive the Omagh bomb trial.

Neitehr is to be prosecuted despite being accuse of perjury by Justice Weir last December when he cleared Sean Hoey of the murder of 29 people in the Real IRA's 1998 Omagh bombing.

Prosecution lawyers alleged that Timer and Power Units (TPUs) used in 12 separate devices were so similar to the one used in the Omagh bomb that they must have been made by the same person. They argued that fibres and DNA samples found on these devices showed that the bombmaker was Hoey.

The judge dismissed this evidence, finding that forensic samples had not been properly stored and that the police had lied about wearing protective clothing. The two people accused of lying were Fiona Cooper, a civilian scenes of crimes officer who later joined the police and Philip Marshall, a detective sergeant, since promoted to the rank of Inspector.

The two examined an abandoned mortar in a van at Altmore Forest, Co Tyrone, on 12 April 2001. Cooper also examined the remains of amortar at Forkhill in 1998.

The judge suggested a wider conspiracy. "I find deliberate and calculated deception in which others concerned in the investigation and preparation of this case for trial beyond these two witnesses may also have played a part" he said. As a result, he dismissed their evidence on other points and referred matter to Al Hutchinson. the Policing Ombudsman.

Judge Weir's comments were based on military intelligence photographs of Altmore obtained by Hoey's defence team.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the Omagh bomb and who attended Hoey's trial, said that the Altmore photograph showed Marshall leaning against the side of the bomb van in normal clothes. Cooper was also dressed normally. Both had told the court they used protective suits. In fact the army pictures were in fact taken after the crime scene had been closed.

In January, Brian Kerr, the chief justice of Northern Ireland, asked Weir to whom he was referring to when he said that others may have deliberately deceived the court. Weir said that he was not thinking of anyone in particular.

Earlier this year the Northern Ireland Policing Board conducted an independent inquiry. It concluded that Cooper and Marshall should not be suspended but moved to other duties pending the ombudsman's report.

Gallagher said "if this means that a police officer and a forensic science officer had been dragged through the mire on a false premise that is an injustice ... Any photographs at a crime scene should be timed and dated." An ombudsman the report was and its findings should be released soon."

October 6, 2008
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This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on October 5, 2008.

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