Belfast Telegraph

Omagh bomb heartache - strain shows on a day of agony

Omagh families vow to fight on as Villiers rules out a public inquiry

By Adrian Rutherford and Chris Kilpatrick

His face etched with emotion and strain, Michael Gallagher was yesterday preparing to take his long fight for justice for the Omagh victims to the courts after the Government rejected demands for a public inquiry.

Angry relatives pledged to take legal action after Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she did not believe there were sufficient grounds to justify a state-commissioned independent probe into the 1998 atrocity.

Twenty-nine people died and hundreds more were injured when a Real IRA bomb exploded in the Co Tyrone town.

No-one has been convicted in a criminal court of the Omagh bombing.

Relatives have long believed vital intelligence which could have prevented the massacre was missed by authorities.

It has previously been claimed that authorities had prior warning of the attack and that GCHQ, the UK's electronic surveillance agency, was tapping phones used by the bombers.

They believe an independent inquiry is the only way to investigate the alleged failures in the original police probe.

Mr Gallagher, whose son Aidan died in the bombing, pledged to take judicial review proceedings to force the British and Irish governments to hold an inquiry.

"We'll be meeting our lawyers tomorrow and we'll plot a way forward, but we'll be moving very quickly for a judicial review of this decision," he said.

Mr Gallagher also ruled out an inquiry similar to the one Desmond de Silva conducted into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

"The problem with any inquiry that's not a public inquiry is that it doesn't have the power to compel witnesses to come before it," he said.

"The original Police Ombudsman's report didn't have powers, some people they wanted to speak to didn't co-operate, and I am aware that in the current investigation there are people who haven't co-operated so far.

"A public inquiry is the only vehicle we see that can get the answers we need to get."

Stanley McCombe, whose wife Ann was killed, said the anger he felt at the Government's decision would drive him onward.

"If they want to try and hide the truth about Omagh, they can," he said. "But we'll flush them out at the end of the day. There are no hiding places."

Ms Villiers declined to be interviewed on her decision yesterday.

In a statement, she said ruling out an inquiry was not an easy decision.

She said a current investigation into elements of the incident by the Police Ombudsman was the best way to proceed.

"I do not believe there are sufficient grounds to justify a further review or inquiry above and beyond those that have already taken place or are ongoing," she said.

Ms Villiers (left) added: "The fact remains that the Real IRA carried out the bombing in Omagh on August 15, 1998, murdering 29 people and injuring many more. Responsibility is theirs alone."

Among those who don't support an inquiry is Kevin Skelton who lost his wife Philomena in the atrocity. He believes some people wanted closure on Omagh.

"They've gone through hell to get their lives back on track and they want to move on with their lives," he said.

Omagh bomb atrocity and the long search for justice

August 13, 1998: A red Vauxhall Cavalier is stolen in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan.

August 15, 1998, 2pm: The car is driven into Market Street. Thirty minutes later, a man phones a bomb warning to UTV.

August 15, 1998, 3.10pm: A 500lb bomb inside the Cavalier explodes. Twenty-nine people including a woman with unborn twins are killed and hundreds injured.

August 18, 1998: Real IRA admits responsibility for the attack.

April 2000: A review reveals 80 suspects have been questioned and more than 2,000 people interviewed.

September 2000: An inquest into the bombing opens. Details of three confused warnings in the half hour before the bomb are revealed. Acting assistant chief constable Eric Anderson says he knows who is behind the attack.

October 2000: BBC's Panorama broadcasts the names of four men allegedly linked to the Omagh bombing.

August 2001: Relatives of nine families launch a landmark civil action against five men they believe are responsible for the massacre – Seamus McKenna, Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly.

December 2001: A Police Ombudsman's report claims warnings were received and ignored, evidence was not passed on to inquiry team and suspects never questioned. Relatives call for a public inquiry.

January 2002: Publican Colm Murphy is found guilty by the Dublin Special Criminal Court of conspiracy to cause the bombing. He is jailed for 14 years but his conviction is overturned on appeal.

October 2002: John White, a Garda detective, claims a senior Garda officer knew the Real IRA was planning Omagh three weeks before attack but withheld information to protect an informer.

October 2003: A secret transcript is published of a conversation between Real IRA informer Paddy Dixon and Garda handler John White three days before the bombing, in which Dixon warns "Omagh is going to blow up in their faces".

April 2008: The families' civil action opens against McKevitt, Daly, Murphy, Campbell and McKenna, and the Real IRA.

September 2008: Panorama claims GCHQ tapped the phones of Real IRA members as they drove to the town to commit the bombing.

June 2009: McKevitt, Daly, Murphy and Campbell are found liable for the bombing in the civil case. The judge awards more than £1.6m in damages to 12 relatives. McKenna is cleared of involvement.

March 2010: A report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee calls for a new investigation into whether intelligence was withheld from detectives.

August 2013: Relatives reveal part of a report they commissioned as part of their campaign for an inquiry.

September 12, 2013: Theresa Villiers rejects the families' call for a public inquiry.

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