'Stress from Omagh case killed detective'
Garda officer who was accused of perjury during original trial suffered ill-health after Murphy conviction quashed
Published 28/02/2010 | 05:00
THE garda detective who was cleared of committing perjury during the trial of Omagh bomb suspect Colm Murphy died as a result of the stress and anxiety caused by the case and his suspension from duty, say former colleagues.
Garda Detective Liam Donnelly lived alone and his health slowly deteriorated after the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the conviction against Murphy in January 2005 on the grounds that gardai falsified notes. Murphy was subsequently retried and acquitted last week.
Gda Det Donnelly died last May, aged 53.
Gda Det Donnelly and Detective Garda John Fahy, who was also cleared of perjury, were responsible for the one major breakthrough in the Omagh investigation.
They detected two mobile phones -- one belonged to Murphy and the other which had allegedly been borrowed by him -- used in south Armagh and Omagh on the day of the bombing in August 1998 which claimed the lives of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injured 220 others. Telephone company records retrieved with the help of the RUC showed one of the phones was used in Omagh shortly before and immediately after the car which carried the device was parked in the centre of the town.
During the course of writing, Gda Det Donnelly realised something was not correct and tore out the sheet and started again. Forensic examination of the notepaper showed the original writing and it became a central plank of the defence case that the detective had "lied" when he said notes were not re-written.
But according to colleagues, he simply forgot about the correction as it was not in any way significant to the actual bombing investigation. "The Special Criminal Court was satisfied, as indeed is this court, that no particular significance, if any at all, attaches to these portions of evidence," ruled the Court of Criminal Appeal. "However, and it is a matter which is conceded by the prosecution on the hearing of this appeal,
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the alteration was potentially one of considerable significance." By the time the case against Murphy came to trial in December 2001, Gda Det Donnelly was unable to give a satisfactory answer under cross examination as to why notes had been re-written. The statement contained no reference to the bombing. This was acknowledged in the previous hearings and again last week by Mr Justice Paul Butler when he observed there was "nothing incriminating" of Colm Murphy in the statement taken by Gda Det Donnelly. Murphy's alleged admission to knowing that a bomb was being taken into Northern Ireland was made in a completely separate statement taken by two other detectives.
At the original trial, Gda Det Donnelly was branded a "liar" by Mr Justice Robert Barr. One colleague said: "Liam put his heart and soul into that investigation, for two-and-a-half years, night and day. He was determined.
"The car had come from our side (the car used in the bombing was stolen in Monaghan). The job was Liam's whole life. He was brilliant.
"He was unique in that he was a Dub who came up to Cavan and served there all his life. The Dub's usually never settle in the country. He was highly respected. No one ever spoke a bad word about him.
"There was a huge crowd at his funeral."
During the Omagh investigation, Gda Det Donnelly and Gda Det Fahy discovered that 11 phone calls were made to and from a mobile phone belonging to Colm Murphy on the day of the bombing, the court cases heard.
Six of the calls were routed through mobile phone masts on the Vodafone network in Co Tyrone, and five were routed on the Eircell network south of the border.
The two detectives were cleared of perjury, an offence which could carry up to seven years; imprisonment, in October 2006, by which time Gda Det Donnelly's health had deteriorated. He was medically discharged from the force shortly after.
Colleagues said he began drinking heavily. "He enjoyed a pint, no more than any man, but it got to him alright," said one colleague.