Kieran Vaughan in landmark Omagh bombing verdict

Friday 4 January 2008

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Sean Hoey, accused of carrying out the Omagh bombing in 1998 which killed 29 people, has been found not guilty following the recent judgement from Mr Justice Weir.

The defence team, including Garden Court's Kieran Vaughan, highlighted mishandling of forensic evidence in the case, one of the first major cases to rely on low copy number DNA testing.

In his judgement Mr Justice Weir agreed, expressing severe doubts about the validity of the technique in general in criminal cases, based on a lack of scientific consensus on the procedure.

In his judgement Mr Justice Weir commented "[the Defence] carried out a commendably far-reaching and thorough examination of the police and forensic laboratory records relating to exhibits and, in the process, uncovered many unsatisfactory matters". The Defence team highlighted a deliberate and calculated deception by officers who lied about wearing protective clothing whilst handling key evidence which in turn led to the judge dismissing the charges. Mr Justice Weir also criticised the police for the thoughtless and slapdash approach in the storage and tracking of exhibits and the absence of systems and regulations for their handling, based on evidence from the Defence.

Low Copy Number (LCN) was developed by the Forensic Science Service and used since 1999 to amplify DNA recovered from tiny numbers of cells to the point where it can be analysed. The judge's ruling made clear the evidence showed LCN is insufficiently validated and now a possibly discredited DNA profiling technique.

The implications of the case are far reaching in the UK where the technique is suspended pending a review and where the issue of quality regulation in forensic science has been drawn into sharp focus. The ruling may have implications in international jurisdictions including the Netherlands and New Zealand which also use the technique.

In a statement about the case the Northern Ireland Office said:

"Justice Weir has given a detailed judgment which the Northern Ireland Office and all the criminal justice agencies involved will need to study with great care.

Whilst many advances have been made over the past few years in the way evidence is gathered and presented, it is important that lessons are learned from this case."

Garden Court's veteran serious crimes barrister Kieran Vaughan appeared in Belfast Crown Court on behalf of the alleged Omagh bomber, Sean Hoey. The defence team of Orlando Pownall QC and Kieran Vaughan were instructed in this matter by Belfast solicitor, Peter Corrigan of Kevin Winters (Sols).

Kieran Vaughan specialises in criminal defence work and has gained vast experience in serious crime in the Crown Court, Court of Appeal and Courts Martial. Over the years he has represented defendants in many of the country's highest profile and most serious cases.

Judgment in full: the Queen v Sean Hoey

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