Omagh suspect 'hid in bushes to escape arrest'

An electrician accused of murdering 29 people in the Omagh bomb atrocity tried to escape arrest by hiding in bushes, a court heard today.

As Sean Hoey, 36, launched a new bid to be released on bail, prosecuting lawyers claimed he could flee across the border to the Republic of Ireland if freed.

Friends are prepared to lodge £50,000 (€73,285) in cash, a farm and land assurities that he would turn up for trial, Belfast Crown Court was told.

Hoey’s mother, Rita, would also hand over her total savings of £1,500 (€2,200) and put up the family home as reassurance.

But the Crown insisted there was a further risk of dissident republican terrorist attacks if the accused, of Molly Road, Jonesborough on the south Armagh border, was granted bail.

Gordon Kerr, QC, said: “That’s to be coupled with the fact that when police came to arrest him in September 2003 it is submitted that he tried to escape and was found in undergrowth some distance from his house by the police.”

Hoey faces a total of 58 charges relating to the August 1998 Omagh bomb massacre carried out by the Real IRA and a series of other terrorist strikes at around the same period across Northern Ireland.

The court was told he has already been in custody for 882 days, with his defence stressing that in England remanded suspects obtain an automatic right to bail after 112 days.

But Mr Kerr told the judge, Mr Justice Weir, that his main objection was the fear that Hoey, who is due to go on trial in September, would not surrender again to police.

“The accused comes from an area adjacent to the border in Jonesborough,” he said.

“He has connections to relatives on both sides of the border and he has a mobile occupation in the sense that he’s an electrician.

“We have a document that he was in fact working in the Republic of Ireland at a time not distant to his arrest.”

Mr Kerr added that evidence linking Hoey to the construction of bombs used at Omagh and in other towns showed these were devices all connected with rogue terrorist organisations.

“The evidence suggests he had a significant role in that activity and that at present dissident republican groupings are not, on my instruction, on ceasefire but are continuing to operate in a terrorist capacity.”

Dressed in a grey jacket and jeans, Hoey, who denied the charges against him, listened intently in the dock throughout the three-hour-long hearing, while some family members sat in the gallery behind him.

Seamus Treacy QC for the defence, told the court the accused had no relevant criminal record, either north or south of the Irish border.

“He’s a person who comes before the court with an unblemished character,” he insisted.

The QC also argued that Hoey had been arrested in September 1998 and again in June 1999 when he was held for up to seven days on both occasions.

He was questioned about the Omagh bombing both times but released, the barrister said.

Mr Treacy claimed his client would have realised that he was under police suspicion of involvement in the bombing and yet he did not try to flee the jurisdiction.

When police rearrested him in September 2003, it was at his own house, the court was told.

After the judge said being taken from under a bush was not a normal place to make an arrest, Mr Treacy reasoned that Hoey had already been held on twice at Gough Barracks and wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of another week there.

“That’s quite a different matter from suggesting this is a person that if he was granted bail wouldn’t turn up for his trial,” the QC said.

He added later: “My instruction was that he ran towards and was in the bush where he was apprehended.

“This was discussed during the course of interviews and he explained to police at the time.”

Mr Treacy also told the court his client had now been in custody for almost eight times the maximum permitted period before the automatic right to bail begins in England.

He added that Hoey was prepared to surrender his passport and agree to any residency requirements.

“There are also very substantial sureties available,” he said.

“One of the individuals is prepared to lodge a sum of up to £50,000. Another individual doesn’t have cash, but does have property, land and a farm. He’s prepared to obtain money on foot of that property.

“The applicant’s mother, Rita Hoey, doesn’t have much but has £1,500 in savings and there’s the parental home.

“They are prepared to do whatever is required to secure their son’s release.”

Mr Justice Weir, who had earlier told both sides that he represented up to 30 people injured in the Omagh bomb in criminal injury claims before he was appointed a judge, said he would decide on the application on Monday.

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