By Ian Graham
BELFAST (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Northern Ireland withdrew their case on Tuesday against a man they believed was responsible for 29 murders in the 1998 Omagh bombing - the worst attack in decades of violence in the province.
On August 15, 1998, a car bomb exploded on a busy shopping street in the town just months after a peace deal to end sectarian violence, provoking domestic and international outrage. The 29 dead included a woman pregnant with twins, and more than 200 people were wounded in the blast.
No one has been convicted for the bombing in a criminal court and Tuesday's decision angered the victims' families.
The Public Prosecution Service announced in court that charges against Seamus Daly, a 45 year-old man from the Irish Republic, were being withdrawn after a preliminary hearing.
Daly has always denied involvement in the bombing but authorities believed they could connect him to it through a mobile phone used by the Real IRA - the dissident republican grouping responsible for the bombing.
The case collapsed after a key witness in the preliminary hearing, much of which was held under reporting restrictions, contradicted his previous evidence in court last week.
"There is a sense of deep disappointment among the families that we have again been let down by the criminal justice system," said Michael Gallagher, whose son died in the bombing.
"This was the last chance for the families to see justice, we have again been denied the truth," he told Reuters.
The 1998 "Good Friday" peace agreement largely ended more than three decades of violence in which more than 3,600 people died in fighting between mainly Catholic Irish nationalists, seeking union with Ireland, and predominantly Protestant unionists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Daly was one of four men found to have been responsible for the bombing by a civil hearing in Belfast High Court and ordered to pay 1.6 million pounds ($2.24 million) compensation to the families of those killed. The case against Daly and one other was upheld at a subsequent appeal. No money has ever been paid.
In 2007 the only other man charged with the 29 murders, South Armagh electrician Sean Hoey, then 38, was found not guilty after a lengthy non-jury trial.
Daly was not at the court to hear the decision and will be released from Northern Ireland's top security Maghaberry Prison later in the day. His lawyer welcomed the decision saying the prosecution had been built "on a house of straw".
($1 = 0.7146 pounds)
(Reporting by Ian Graham; editing by William James and Gareth Jones)