Belfast Telegraph

Omagh bomb: Victim's father can challenge Government's refusal to hold public inquiry

By Alan Erwin

The father of a young man killed in the Omagh bombing today won the legal right to challenge the Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into the atrocity.

A judge at the High Court in Belfast ruled that Michael Gallagher has established an arguable case that the authorities are in breach of an investigative obligation.

Claims that intelligence may exist to back his belief that the Real IRA attack could have been prevented will now be explored at a full hearing in April.

Mr Gallagher's son Aiden was among 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, killed in the August 1998 outrage.

In September 2013 Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers rejected calls for a public inquiry, deciding instead that an investigation by Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire was the best way to address any outstanding issues.

Last October Dr Maguire published a report where he found RUC Special Branch withheld some intelligence information from detectives hunting the bombers.

No one has ever been convicted of carrying out the attack, but Seamus Daly, a 44-year-old bricklayer from Cullaville, Co Monaghan, is currently charged with the 29 murders which he denies.

Central to the bid to have Ms Villiers' decision judicially reviewed is a contention that the British Government has a duty under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to protect lives and investigate the bombing.

Mr Gallagher was in court with his family and Stanley McComb, who lost his wife Ann in the blast, to hear his lawyers claim that the terrorist attack was at least arguably preventable.

They argued that a range of intelligence from British security agents, MI5 and RUC officers could have been drawn together to stop the killers in their tracks.

An alleged gap in the information relates to any monitoring of the bomb and scout cars as they crossed the Irish border into Omagh on the day of the attack.

It was suggested that a BBC Panorama documentary has raised the possibility of other intelligence than the intercept material which has been the subject of investigations to date.

Counsel for the Secretary of State stressed, however, that four separate Police Ombudsman examinations into Omagh have already been held.

In the latest report Dr Maguire concluded nothing had been identified which could have prevented the atrocity, but that Special Branch had acted "cautiously".

Further opposition to the challenge was based on the date of the bombing - two years before human rights legislation was incorporated into UK law in 2000.

But granting leave to seek a judicial review, Mr Justice Treacy held that Article 2 duties were at least arguably engaged.

He also decided an arguable case had been established that the State is in breach of its obligation to conduct such an investigation into claims the attack could have been prevented.

The judge listed the case for a substantive two-day hearing on April 29-30.

Outside court Mr Gallagher expressed delight at the outcome.

He said: "This is but a step on our continued fight for justice. Today the courts have agreed at the very least that the Secretary of State's decision was questionable.

"We will now move on to prepare for a full hearing to show the state has yet to properly investigate the circumstances of the Omagh bomb."

Amnesty International welcomed the High Court decision in a statement issued after the hearing.

Amnesty Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said: “Amnesty welcomes this decision to enable a legal challenge to the government's refusal of an inquiry.

“The Secretary of State's decision not to hold an inquiry into the Omagh bombings was a betrayal of the victims and families who have longed for answers for over 16 years.  

“All that families want is the truth, yet the government slammed the door in their face.

“What the families, and Northern Ireland more broadly, deserve is the fullest account possible of what happened in Omagh. Questions of serious public concern surrounding the circumstances leading up to the Omagh bomb and the failed investigations that followed, remain unanswered.”  

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