06 February 2006

No bail for Omagh bomb accused


06/02/2006 - 16:05:31

An electrician accused of murdering 29 people in the Omagh bomb massacre was refused bail today over fears he may flee south. Sean Hoey is pictured here in an artist's impression.

An electrician accused of murdering 29 people in the Omagh bomb massacre was refused bail today over fears he may flee south.

A judge told Belfast Crown Court he could not release Sean Hoey, 36, because he had tried to escape arrest by hiding in bushes.

With the south Armagh man facing 58 charges involving 14 separate terrorist attacks, Mr Justice Weir insisted the allegations against him were too serious to back the case put forward by his defence.

Even though Hoey has been on remand for nearly 900 days, he now faces another seven months behind bars before standing trial in September for the Omagh bombing.

The accused, of Molly Road, Jonesborough, near the border, denies involvement in the August 1998 no-warning strike on the Co Tyrone market town.

As well as killing 29 people and unborn twins, a massive car bomb detonated by the Real IRA injured hundreds more.

Hoey has also been charged with a series of other dissident republican attacks across the North during the same period.

Although his defence argued that Hoey has been on remand eight times longer than any suspect in England can be held, Mr Justice Weir accepted Crown fears that he may not turn up for trial.

The judge’s concerns were heightened by Hoey’s bid to escape when he was seized at his home in September 2003.

Mr Justice Weir said: “The conclusion I have reached is that there is a well-founded fear that if released on bail the applicant would fail to surrender to it. He attempted to evade arrest and to hide himself when police came to arrest him the last time.

“The fact he lives close to the border, has family living there and has a history of employment in the Republic of Ireland, means he would find it more straightforward than others to establish himself in the Republic of Ireland if he chose to do so.”

Friends of Hoey, who sat expressionless in the dock, were prepared to lodge £50,000 (€73,000) in cash, a farm and land as sureties that he would not flee if released.

His mother, Rita, was also ready to hand over her total savings of £1,500 (€2,200) and put up the family home as assurance, Mr Justice Weir was told.

But as Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed at Omagh, listened from the public gallery, the judge set out why he could not agree to the request.

The most serious charges against Hoey were the 29 murders, he stressed.

Mr Justice Weir accepted Hoey had been in custody for some time and would have to wait months before the non-jury trial could get under way, but he did not accept that the delay had been inordinate.

“Given the gravity and extent of the charges the applicant faces, I consider that no conditions the court might impose could guard against the risk of the applicant absconding,” he added.

“I must refuse the application for bail.”

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