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OMAGH BOMB BARBARITY Mutable Forensic Evidence

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4757 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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On 15th August 1998, a shockingly cruel and savage act happened on the busy road of Omagh, Northern Ireland, when the bomb exploded (BBC News, 2005). Some civilian’s people and organization known as Real Irish Republican Army was known to be involved. They organized to function like a military unit when they planted a bomb in the maroon color car on Saturday 15th August.

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In consequence of this 29 innocent people died (including 1 pregnant lady, teenagers, children and tourist) in the explosion and more than 200 people got injured. The 500 pounds fertilizer based explosives device had been packed into the maroon Vauxhall Cavalier stolen car (changed number plate) and was left by couple of people in the Country Tyrone town. The main motive of Real IRA was to oppose peace process (BBC News, 2005).

The lack of urgency, evidence collection, handling and action by the police created lots of question and ultimately failed conviction of the suspects. The problem started right from the telephone warnings given by the suspects to the news channel about the location of the device and when it was going to explode (BBC News, 2007).

One of the person said that car was parked outside the Omagh’s courthouse and other one told that it was distance away from their due to which Police cordon off (High street)and secure the wrong area after 40 minutes of warning call. People moves towards the bomb. It was believed that the suspects did not find the parking space near by the courthouse so finally parked the car in lower market street, on the southern side (road connecting with Dublin) (BBC News 2007).

Finally the bomb in the car was detonated around 3:10 pm and destroyed everything in the nearby area. The power of explosive was so high that it covered about 300 yards (BBC News, 1998).

2. Police Investigation & their Approaches

Many of the specialists from the London Metropolitan Police came for the investigation and to help Northern Ireland Police. As this case involved very critical and potential evidence that can help the police a way ahead in investigation. Various Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO’s) and Forensic team was involved in the collection of the evidence which required the ability to search properly till the last bit (Guardian Timeline, 2007)

The shock waves was so intense that it left 80 cm deep and 3 meters wide depressed area where many of the bodies were found later by the police. During investigation Police was confirmed that IRA was behind the attack.

In one of the press release by Police chief superintendent Eric Anderson told that these kinds of explosives earlier happened in Ireland and UK but this time the target was not army and police but the innocent people of Omagh (Belfast Telegraph, 1998).

Forensic experts were successful in discover that detonator had been held in lunch box and the company of the box which was used. Later on findings reveals that Coupatan timer was used to detonate (BBC News, 2005). Many police officers were involved in asking the victims and the people about the suspect and asked for public help in their investigation

The car which suspect used was stolen from Monaghan and had been seen in south Armagh before the blast. Several months after the attack police came to know the suspect and their identity. Police able to recover the evidence but not that much liable which can assured the conviction.

Based on the investigation Ireland Police arrested 12 men. Colm Murphy from raven’s dale country Loath was charged with conspiracy and later convicted by Special Criminal Court on January 2002 (Guardian Timeline, 2007). On the basis of improper decision by the trial judge he applied for retrial in Court of Appeal.

Later on Colm Murphy nephew Sean Hoey (electrician, Armagh) was presented in court by the prosecution on 29 counts of murder, terrorism and explosives charges. He was in total convicted for 4 Mortar bomb Attack on various army , RUC station and 5 bomb placed in car and left on busy places, 2 bomb placed on railway line (R v Sean Hoey,2007).

The session was held in Crown court of Ireland in the presence of jury and Judge WIER J. Due to the lack of proper interpretation by the forensic scientist and mishandling of the evidence by Police gave result to failed conviction against Sean Hoey (Fennelly, Gary 2007).

3. Analysis of the Component Parts

3.1. Low copy number DNA: DNA profiling has inspired the use of molecular science in legal system and used routinely as evidence in criminal cases. Various commercial kids are designed and validated to operate in the specific range of DNA (0.5-2.5ng). These work by amplifying the DNA molecule contained in the suspect sample a multiple times to generate enough to be detected by analyzer. The term refer to this is Low copy number DNA analysis (Butler.M, 2005).

However the problem with LCN is that process may sometimes fails to amplify the template and results in problem to analyze the profile. Various factors give rise to it like collection of evidence properly, sampling, errors caused by machine to work properly and failure of chemistry to work effectively.

The test was carried out by government owned Forensic Science Service which was engaged in LCN testing. Prior to this they have validated and used these testing 21000 times (BBC News, 2007). They used SGM+ instrument for LCN DNA test. Despite that in relation to Omagh bombing case (R v Sean Hoey, 2007) 1998 the Judge WEIR J very critically analyzed the problem associated with the LCN DNA and had doubts about the merits of LCN testing.

The chain of custody was not maintained by Police i.e. exhibits recovery from the scenes, sending for Forensic or related examination (transmission) and preserving the exhibit till the court proceedings were over. Initially the forensic laboratory failed to examined the DNA and return the exhibit to Police which was later send for LCN DNA testing to Birmingham laboratories. The prosecution by relying on the result of DNA trying to proved the presence of suspect to 4 incidents from 13 scenes.

The defense solicitors (Kevin R Winters and Co) approached to Forensic Institute Glasgow to recheck the DNA presented by prosecution. According to Judge WIER J defense came with potential problem related to LCN DNA examination that is :

Amount of DNA required for profiling.

Cross Contamination of the Samples.

Limitation of the process

Conditions under which examination was carried.

Prosecution responsibility that no contamination occur during the whole process.

However Dr.Griffin (Prosecution) points all the precautions but defense examined and work according to the Specialist Working Group on DNA Analysis and Methods (SWGDAM) and Professor Jamieson attached these guidelines with his report (Dr. Jamieson, Allen.2010).Defense argued that the whole process starting from recording, collection of evidence, packaging, labeling and maintain the integrity of the evidence without human error and cross-contamination cannot be possible. Judge WIER J asked the prosecution to produce all these records like the person involved reliability of the findings etc. to prove the factual content of the evidence beyond the reasonable doubt.

3.2. Explosive Probe: Many of the investigation were carried out by Police regarding kind of explosive used in Omagh case (BBC News, 2000).According to the prosecution Forensic Scientist Mr. Dennis McAuley correlates all these Mark 19 TPUs (which was used in the explosives) to the accused with uncertainty and present his report in this case (R v Sean Hoey, 2007). He closely went through the evidence and physically examined, identified all the components used.

Although he point out dissimilarity in his report but the main similarity was

1. The construction of each TPUs.

2. He indicated that same kind of plastic boxes were used in the construction and carrying of explosives.

3. The position of the holes made in the plastic box and the wires coming out from the place where the key ingredients of explosives conciliate were similar. These individual parts were connected by the hole in the base of lunch box

4. Wires were stick by hot melt glue and of similar color. The combination of wires and its color were fixed at that time.

5. The way by which they are connected to detonator was also similar. The detonator had same “Coupatan” manufacturing marking with date of the stock ordered and supplied in the year 1997 on it (R v Sean Hoey, 2007).

6. The LED’s used in the bomb and electrical resistors of 390 ohms.

7. Most of the batteries were 1.5 v and 9 v.

8. Other thing which Mr. McAuley made was that a soldered connection which was used to hold all components was of similar nature.

TPU fragments were recovered from the Omagh bomb scene because in that case it was destroyed by the explosion. Although some of the wire recovered by the investigator but ultimately it fails to describe the overall construction of TPUs.

In answer to prosecution forensic scientist report defense attacked on the fact that some of the finding which was made by him was outside his expertise like the point which he raised earlier about the soldering. Mr. McAuley was not electrical engineer.

Overall the judge WIER J was not fully satisfied with the explanation and the comparison of the evidence which he had given. Rather than this Judge did not denied Mr. McAuley findings and told that may be the explosive was constructed by the same person but did not particularly linked accused to the case (R v Sean Hoey, 2007). In addition to this he told that prosecution and forensic scientist failed to prove that when and by whom this same company detonator was sold in 1997.

Again it was example of bad interpretation and poor repot presentation. On some of the point he completely went out of his area and cannot explained the reason like probability of the person that were or similar in soldering and whether putting holes made any difference.

3.3. Fiber Evidence and its relative findings: A various fibers had been examined by the Dr.Logan and Dr.Griffin (Crown’s scientist). They tried to establish the fact that all bombing incidents were linked to each other and the device which was recovered from the crime scene could be linked to Sean Hoey (key forensics services limited, 2008). The key focus of the case was around the recovery of very small number of black acrylic fibers on a device (TPU’s) from the scene. The prosecution scientist tries to correlate these fibers to the items found in Sean Hoey’s place like mobile phone etc. Recovery of the fibers was made from the insulating tape that was covered on the device. These were usually transferred during the construction and assembling of the device.

The different nature of fibers was matched to each other in 9 of the cases including Omagh bombing case and other varies significantly. But Judge WIER J pointed out was that these didn’t mean that the same type of gloves was used in making of TPU’s devices which was right (R V Sean Hoey, 2007). Different nature of the fibers showed that different woolen gloves were worn.

In this finding what goes wrong was the lack of interpretation. It didn’t prove that the fibers which was found on the crime scene was unique in features, it can be found anywhere in the vicinity. As it was clearly reported by judge WIER J that these fibers finding cannot confidently linked the suspect to the crime scene. Also there was no evidence that if anyone other than accused was living over there and accessing the things, might be those fibers came from there.

3.4. Disorganized Strive and mishandling: The other problem which stated by Judge WIER J was that the methodical arrangement of recording and storage of the evidence were totally unsynchronized. Like the evidence was not properly labeled, wrong tagging of the exhibit label and packaging problem. Apart from that Police did not make the proper log of the evidence that is collecting and storage time (R v Sean Hoey, 2007).Lack of timely allocation of investigating officers were also pointed by the judge WIER J.

In relation to this problem police witness and Detective Chief Superintendent also states the same thing that they never checked the returned exhibits form the FNSI and failed to maintain the log. In case of loss it’s hard to trace the evidence as what happened to TPUs and other exhibits .It was a clear indication of the mismanagement in regard to exhibit handling.

It’s the duty of the Police and Forensic laboratory to maintain the chain of custody and handling of evidence. In the press release report of Forensic Institute and according to judge WIER J Dr.Griffin (FSS) does not kept the proper log of items which was present in the laboratory as bar coding system was present but not fully functional in whole laboratory. Label was stick to the exhibit by old and dried cello tape which could result to the environmental damage of the DNA. (Forensic Science institute, 2008).

These allegations was accepted by Dr.Griffin and told that these factors can lead to errors and produce wrong results. But they have taken all the precautionary measures while testing. Further it was possibility from the report of Dr.Griffin that not only Dr.Griffin deals with the evidence but also the other laboratory scientist and the persons whose identity was not known (R v Sean Hoey, 2007) which can lead to cross contamination as all these test require precision.

Another point that arose from the report of Dr.Griffin was that while dealing with the evidence the scientist was not wearing the gloves, masks. These all points prove that mishandling of the exhibit took place.

 3.5. Valuable calls records and its analysis:

Later after the bomb it was established that 2 warning calls was made from South Armagh which is close to the border. In the investigation police focused on mobile phone traffic between 2p.m and 2:30pm in the Omagh and its nearby area. In the details of subscribers it was found that suspect used the Vodafone service. Immediately police ordered to check their system on cell sites in Northern Ireland during the period of 12-15 August 1998 (Trewmte, 2007).

The analysis of the information was provided by Lisa Purnell on the behalf of police. It states that warning calls were made from a public call box by using the code “Martha Pope” at crossroads at 2:29 pm to Ulster Television and the other one at 2:31pm. This was one of the digital forensic evidence carried out in the course of investigation in Omagh bombing case. Each time suspect gave the different information regarding the bomb location and time.

Mr. Raymond Green (investigation manager Vodafone) provides all the possible details beyond the reasonable doubt. In 1998 the data was not stored on the disc or tape so it was not available but now procedures have evolved to keep the data safe and retained so that it can be checked any time as original source material (Data Protection Act 1998) (Keenan and Smith, 2007).

If we assert on this point it was clear that the warning calls was made but cannot particularly link to the suspect. In the absence of electronic records sources of error and omissions highly increased. There were no procedures in relation to the maintenance of these records in 1998 and because of this the reliability of the digital forensic evidence decreased (Digital Forensics 2011).But in the Omagh bombing case this evidence is totally ignored and didn’t got that much importance.

4. Discussion on Omagh Bombing

Factually during scientific investigation:

4.1 Crime Scene Safety: Prior to the crime scene search the safety measures should be properly taken by the personnel who are involved in the scene search. It’s their and organization responsibility to identify the type of hazards and then move forward. Possessing the crime scene with all safety measures can lead to successful crime scene search (Waggoner, K 2007) In this case the investigating team should be aware of Blood borne pathogen safety, chemical safety.

Secure the area by cordoning off the place and maintain the proper log of the persons, officers involved during the investigation of crime scene. It’s the duty of first attending officer to maintain and secure the crime scene until the Scene of crime officers and forensic team reached by cordon off the place (Jackson and Jackson 2008). Upon their arrival they should brief about the situation or anything done to the scene like removal of the body etc.

4.2 Crime scene search: A well planned and coordinated crime scene should be carried out by the law enforcement officials who are well trained and aware of everything. The SOCO’s should be cautious about the physical evidence loss and the most important is cross contamination. For this Crime scene co-coordinator and SOCO’s (National institute of Justice, 2009):

a) Organize the evidence handling and processing team: Search team includes Photographer, safety, medical, sketch, collectors and forensic experts. Evidence custodian should also be included in the team. The Scene coordinator regularly examines the scene by establishing the common approach path and organizes the team. Extra effort should be taken to preserve the evidence (Saferstein,R. 2007)

b) Control scene contamination: It’s the duty of the personnel involved in the scene search to avoid the cross contamination. It can be done by using clean protective outer cover and equipment used, obtain control sample wherever needed. Evidence recovery and processing should be in such a manner that avoids degradation or contamination of the evidence.

Evidence from the different scenes should be separated and marked properly.

c) Recover, collect, preserve, package and transport the evidence properly: The most critical step is to maintain the integrity of the evidence till the court trails ends for the particular case. This can only be done by preparing an evidence recovery log, photographed it (before and after packaging) and proper labeling and packaging.

After all these chain of custody should be maintained. Documents and crime scene report must be completed by providing all the necessary details and its relative findings (David and Houck. 2010). SOCO’s officer includes major event and time lines of the activity. Photos, video, sketches logs have been attached with the report.

Make sure scene examination is complete. Investigating members should discuss the valuable issues about the incident and cross check all the evidence recovered. They should go through the post -examination issue and document post scene issues.

Finally they should release the scene by documenting the time and date of release and safety issues and report the release in the log.

4.3 Comments: As discussed previously Justice WIER J very critically analyzed the entire problem related to this case. He was very accurate and précised in judging forensic evidence which was presented by the prosecution. There were many loop holes in the case like the approach taken by the police towards investigation and dealing with forensic evidence. Two of the police officers had not presented the concise report in front of the court. The miscarriages of the evidence by the investigating officers and other personnel made it impossible for the judge to believe in them which was right from the point of Judge WIER J (Telegraph, 2006).

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In 56 day trial against Sean Hoey defense regularly argued on the evidence presented by the prosecution. It was clear that some tampering and wrong tagging was done with the evidence (BBC News, 2001). One must take extra effort to keep the evidence secure by proper packaging, storage, maintaining proper log and chain of custody till the court proceedings got over.

These all lack of attention, consideration of the important point and thoroughness lead to the fail conviction of the Sean Hoey. After this acquittal improvement steps was carried out by the Forensic Science Services in relation to Low copy number technique. In one of the press release repot on behalf of Forensic Institute, Glasgow they point out areas of improvement that can be made by forensic services (Forensic Institute, 2008):

a) Before presenting the report on the newer technique second opinion from other well reputed organization should be made.

b) Proper data interpretation and validation of the techniques should be well reported by the forensic expert in their report.

In other report presented by Northern Ireland affairs committee (Sir Patrick Cormack. 2010) they asked for new investigation into the Omagh bomb case.

The importance of physical evidence cannot be ignored. The proper handling of the evidence reflects its condition and integrity. Right from its recovery till court trail it should be maintained.

Evidence handling procedure should be tightened so that no miscarriages can take place. Extra labels should be placed on the evidence bag on which the Scene of crime officer can not only write the class characteristics or description of the evidence but also could mention the sub class features during packaging (Virginia Forensic science laboratory, 2010). There can be probability of more than one material in the bag so for proper handling and care features should also be marked.

Another precaution should be taken while transferring the evidence from scene to laboratory. The person who is carrying the evidence to Forensic laboratory should receive the receipt with stamp of the evidence, condition in which it is taken. Laboratory person who is collecting the evidence should thoroughly check any kind of tampering.

It’s difficult to draw the particular set of rules for each kind of physical evidence but proper scientific knowledge can do that (Waggoner, K. 2007). Each semester term proper training and newer techniques should be given to the Police and investigating officer. This can improve the quality of evidence handling and ultimately good forensic outcome. Extra man power should be incorporated in the forensic laboratory so that proper procedure can be followed.


It’s very difficult by the law enforcement agencies and Police officers to handle such a large scale incident. The size of crime scene, cross-contamination issues like crime scene area covered by such large amount of debris, large number of casualties results in fail conviction though the major investigation steps seemed to be ok.

Justice WIER J critically analyzed all the problem related to the case and kept the judgment balanced (R v Sean Hoey, 2007).

He pointed out the problem of evidence handling and wrong approach by the Police of Northern Ireland while dealing with evidence of such an important case. Scientific evidence gathering requires the skill which Scene of crime officers failed to show. Also the forensic scientist did not follow the particular protocol while examination and the techniques were not fully validated and accurate at that time.

A delayed investigation in the starting created a number of problems. Creating a proper scene review can help the senior investigation officer to plan strategically and deal with the enquiry. It can act as a supportive mechanism for SIO’s (nipolicingboard, 2007).

The examination of the evidence specially the low copy number DNA testing did not follow the Specialist Working Group on DNA Analysis and Methods (SWGDAM). It suggests that techniques should be peer reviewed and reliability of it should be increased.

Regular training program should be organized by the authorities for forensic evidence gathering and handling.


6. A.Table of cases and statues:

R v Sean Hoey 2007.

Data Protection Act – 1998.

6. B.References:

BBC News. (1998). Omagh bombing kills 28, 16 August, 11:26 AM. Retrived March 13, 2011, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/events/northern_ireland/latest_news/152156.stm.

BBC News. (2000). Omagh Investigation under review, 21 April,12 pm GMT. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/721734.stm.

BBC News. (2001). Police critcal of Omagh draft report, 6 December, 21:14 pm. Retrieved March 16, 2011, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/1696447.stm.

BBC News (2005) In Depth: Omagh Bombing, 21 , January. Retrieved March 20, 2011, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/northern_ireland/2000/the_omagh_bomb/default.stm

BBC News. (2007). Verdict raises DNA evidence doubt, 20 December, 17:00 PM. Retrieved March 13, 2011, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7154189.stm.

BBC News (2007). How the Omagh case unravelled, 20 December, 20:56 PM. Retrieved March 17, 2011, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7154952.stm.

Belfast Telegraph. (1998). Northern Ireland Police Press Release Report, Omagh Bombing, 15 August , 22:45pm GMT.

Butler, JM. (2005). Forensic DNA typing. Burlington USA: Elsevier Academic Press.

David, Niamh Nic and Houck, Max. (2010). Interpol’s forensic science review. London: CRC Press

Digital Forensics. (2011). Retrieved March 7th, 2011, from Forensic Focus : www.forensicfoucs.com

Dingley, J.-S. (1998). The bombing of Omagh. Journel of Conflict Studies , 105-126.

Dr.Allan Jamieson (Director), Forensic Institute. (2010). Low copy number and Forensic Institute. Retrieved March 8, 2011, from Forensic Institute : http://www.theforensicinstitute.com/news/low-copy-number-dna-and-the-forensic-institute.html

Fennelly, Gary (2007). Sean Hoey cleared of Omagh bombing charges. Belfast Telegraph, 20 December.

Forensic Science Institute. (2008). PRESS RELEASE ON BEHALF OF THE FORENSIC INSTITUTE, GLASGOW, 15 April. Retrieved March 10, 2011, from Denverda oraganization: http://www.denverda.org/DNA_Documents/Forensic%20Institute,%20Glasgow%20Press%20release.pdf

Guardian, Timeline. (2007). Timeline. the Omagh bombing, 10 December.

Jackson, Andrew,RW and Jackson,Julie. (2008). Forensic Science. Harlow: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.

Keenan, D. J and Smith (2007). Smith and Keenan’s English law. Haarlow: Pearson Longman.

Key forensic services limited. (2008). Case notes. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from Key forensic services limited: http://www.keyforensic.co.uk/cogent-forensic-consultants/case-notes

National Institute of Justice. (2009, June 1). Investigation of bomb and explosive scene. Retrieved March 12, 2011, from National Institute of Justice: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/law-enforcement/investigations/crime-scene/guides/explosion-bombing/process.htm

Northern Ireland policing board (2007.)Omagh bomb investigation-Independent review, 5 July Retrieved March 13, 2011, from Northern Ireland Police Board: http://www.nipolicingboard.org.uk

R v Sean Hoey, NICC 49 (Crown Court 12 20, 2007).

Sir Patrick Cormack (Chairman) Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (2010)Report on Omagh bombing outlines, 16, March Retrieved March 13, 2011, from UK Parliament: http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2010/03/report-on-omagh-bombing-outlines-remaining-questions/

Saferstein, R. (2007). Criminalistics – Introduction to Forensic Science. New Jersy: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Telegraph (2006, October). Omagh Retrieved March 13, 2011, from Telegraph online news: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main…/nomagh120.xml

Trewmte (2007) Forensic Focus. Call records ,Cell analysis and digital forensics . Retrived March 15, 2011 from Forensic Focus: www.forensic focus.com.

Virginia Forensic Science laboratory (2010). Evidence Handling and lab capabilities guide. Virgina.

Waggoner, K. (2007). Handbook of Forensic Services. Quantico, Virginia: An FBI Laboratory Publication.


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