Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Omagh bombing victims' relatives may have been News of the World targets

Relatives of the Omagh bomb dead say they believe their phones may have been interfered with amid mounting fears over the extent of illegal hacking in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Yesterday, as police in London revealed they were investigating more than 4,000 potential victims, two bereaved Omagh families voiced concerns they may also have been targeted by the News of the World.

Twenty-nine people and two unborn twins died when a 500lb bomb ripped through the Co Tyrone market town in August 1998.

Last night Victor Barker, whose son James was among the victims, said he has contacted the Metropolitan Police to determine if his phone has been interfered with.

"Some years ago when I was operating from my office in Surrey, we had a lot of problems not only with my office phone but with my mobile," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I thought at the time that, because I was making a lot of phone calls to Martin McGuinness, it might have been the security services listening in."

However, he now fears the problems may have been the result of hacking.

He added: "I have asked the Metropolitan Police whether they think my phone was being hacked as well, and I've yet to receive an answer."

Meanwhile, Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the bombing, said he too had concerns.

"It has crossed my mind," he said.

"There is anxiety there, there are doubts when you learn that these people can intercept your phone calls or your messages."

Last night a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police declined to comment when contacted by this newspaper.

"We are not commenting on individuals who may or may not have been contacted. It is an ongoing inquiry," she said.

Another alleged victim, former British intelligence officer Ian Hurst, said he was shown evidence that his emails were intercepted and later faxed to the News of the World's Dublin offices when he met with police on Friday.

He said the fax was addressed to "Alex". Panorama had earlier alleged that Alex Marunchak - the tabloid's Ireland editor at the time - had hired a private investigator to hack Mr Hurst's computer - claims which Mr Marunchak denies.

"After Panorama informed me, we had to go to the police, who informed me last week that they have possession of those documents, having had possession of them for some years," Mr Hurst told the Belfast Telegraph.

He has already commenced legal action against the police, who he claims sat on the information for years, and the News of the World.

Michael Mansfield, one of the most high-profile legal names in Britain, also confirmed he has been informed by Scotland Yard that he was on a list of possible targets.

The lawyer, who acted on behalf of some of the Bloody Sunday families, is best known for representing Mohamed al Fayed at the inquest into Diana, Princess of Wales's death.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jnr, who has been told his phone may have been hacked, has called for new means to be introduced to tackle the problem.

"It is an absolutely appalling set of circumstances that some members of the Press would go to any lengths to get a story," he said.

A former journalist who worked with the News of the World in Ireland said "the kind of tactics" used to secure stories in the English edition "didn't stop at national borders".

Paul McMullan, a former features executive and member of the newspaper's investigations team, said he used "grey arts" tactics to get stories for its Irish edition when he worked there during the 1990s.

"There is no difference in the way we got stories in the south of Ireland to the way we did it in the UK," he said.

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