Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Disappointed Omagh families fail to get probe commitment

Relatives of the Omagh bomb victims said they felt let down by their meeting with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Yesterday Owen Paterson met the families of those killed in the 1998 atrocity to discuss the possibility of opening a public inquiry into the Real IRA attack.

The relatives want a full independent probe into the horrific massacre which claimed the lives of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.

They believe two previous inquiries carried out by the Police Ombudsman and a Commons select committee only focused on narrow aspects of the atrocity and raised many more questions than they answered.

Politicians from Sinn Fein, the SDLP, UUP and Alliance also attended.

Michael Gallagher, who lost his 21-year-old son Aiden in the bombing, said the group had been hopeful the meeting with the Secretary of State would go well.

He said the secretary had been generous with his time and promised to look at information they had given him but he felt let down because he would not commit to working with their legal team.

“There was no positive outcome,” he said. “We left him with some material and he said he would speak to people including the Irish government and come back to us in due course.

“But we felt it was a disappointment because the Secretary of State didn’t commit to anything.

“I think we are probably being dealt with in the same way as the past — being put on the long finger.

“I felt there was an opportunity for the Secretary of State to at least say that his officials would work with the families and our legal team to try and find some

way forward but he didn’t. He declined to do that and only said that he would continue to have an open mind.”

Earlier this year the Northern Ireland affairs committee at Westminster recommended that a public inquiry should be established to examine whether vital intelligence on the Real IRA was shielded from detectives investigating the Omagh bombing.

Its call came following claims in a BBC documentary that the Government's listening station, GCHQ, had monitored suspects' mobile phone calls as they drove to Omagh from the Republic on the day of the atrocity in August 1998.

The Panorama programme said this information was never passed to RUC detectives on the case.

While a subsequent review by the intelligence services commissioner Sir Peter Gibson rejected many of Panorama's assertions, the committee chairman Sir Patrick Cormack said the bereaved still needed answers.

Mr Gallagher said that, while he agreed that any public inquiry needed to examine those aspects, the relatives believed it needed to broader.

“We feel that the problem with Omagh over the years was that they looked at small individual areas,” he explained.

“We need an over-arching inquiry which would look at all the issues that need to be addressed.”

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