Belfast Telegraph

Omagh families challenge Villiers

Campaigning families of Omagh bomb victims have challenged the Northern Ireland Secretary in a face-to-face meeting over her refusal to order a public inquiry into the Real IRA attack.

Relatives of some of those killed in the 1998 terrorist outrage travelled to Hillsborough Castle, Co Down to demand an explanation from Theresa Villiers as to why she had ruled out an independent probe into alleged state intelligence and investigative failings.

The families claim mistakes allowed the bombers to perpetrate the atrocity, and get away with it.

The dissident republican attack which killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injured hundreds more was one of the worst atrocities of the Northern Ireland troubles and inflicted the greatest loss of life in a single terrorist incident.

While no-one has been criminally convicted of the crime, four republicans were found liable for the atrocity in a landmark civil case taken by some of the bereaved relatives and ordered to pay £1.6 million compensation.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden died in the bomb, said neither side gave any ground during today's half hour meeting in Hillsborough.

"There was no change of minds," he said. "She attempted to justify her decision and give her reasons but we still do not accept them.

"She gave us some detail but there was other information we wanted that she did not have at hand, which surprised us."

The families are set to take legal action, in the form of a judicial review, against Ms Villiers' decision.

In announcing the Government's position last week, the Northern Ireland Secretary said she did not believe there were sufficient grounds to justify a state-commissioned independent inquiry.

Mr Gallagher said: "We informed her that we intend to pursue the legal route and let the courts decide."

With the bomb having been allegedly transported to the Co Tyrone town from the Republic of Ireland, bereaved families have called for a cross-border inquiry involving both the London and Dublin governments.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said his Government is still considering a report the families had compiled on the alleged state failures north and south.

Not all the Omagh bomb families want an inquiry, with some claiming the exercise would re-traumatise the bereaved.

Omagh was bombed just months after politicians in Northern Ireland signed the historic Good Friday peace accord that led to power-sharing at Stormont.

Last month, families pressing for the inquiry, many of whom belong to the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, outlined details of an independent report they commissioned into alleged intelligence mistakes in the lead-up to the atrocity and gaffes in the subsequent criminal investigations.

They had handed the document to the authorities in London and Dublin a year previously and complained vociferously at the length of time the respective governments had taken to respond.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said: "This was a private meeting but the Secretary of State was very happy to meet with the families and hear their concerns."

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