Omagh suspect set to go on trial

Devastation: The 1998 Omagh bomb in Northern Ireland, perpetrated by the Real IRA, killed 29 people and was the worst atrocity in the UK in 30 years

The man accused of Northern Ireland's worst single terrorist atrocity is set to go on trial in Belfast.

Relatives of the Omagh bomb victims are bracing themselves for a harrowing new ordeal as Sean Hoey, 36, from south Armagh, is tried at Belfast Crown Court.

He is charged with the murders of the 29 people - including a mother of unborn twins - killed in the no-warning bomb attack on the Co Tyrone town. The case, among the biggest in British and Irish legal history, could last for three months.

The court will hear weeks of painstaking evidence as prosecution lawyers seek the first conviction in Northern Ireland for the dissident republican terrorist outrage in August 1998. Expert voice analysis and DNA evidence are expected to be central to the case.

For the families of those who died when the 500lb Real IRA car bomb tore through Omagh town centre without warning eight years ago, another painful ordeal lies ahead.

Stanley McCombe, whose wife, Ann, 48, was killed in the blast, admitted his anticipation was laced with dread, saying: "It's a day I have been waiting for, but yet I'm not looking forward to going near the court. It's going to be tough watching somebody who is accused of being one of the instigators.

"But we have come through hell and high water before and if this is going to give us a little bit of peace, then so be it."

With no jury to be sworn in because of the laws governing terrorist trials in Northern Ireland, the case against Hoey, of Molly Road, Jonesborough, Co Armagh, will be heard by Mr Justice Reg Weir.

The bombing, on a Saturday afternoon in mid-summer, represented the single worst atrocity in 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Hoey has been charged with the 29 murders among a total of 61 terrorist and explosive charges, all of which he denies.

The decision to prosecute him followed a marathon police investigation which has been mired in controversy. A damning report by Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan was heavily critical of the initial police inquiry and the then Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan.