Omagh bomb families win multi-million pound legal case
Relatives of the Omagh bomb victims today won a landmark multi-million pound civil action against four men they blamed for the atrocity in which 29 people died.
Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt and three other men - Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly - were found to be responsible for the terrorist attack by a judge in a landmark civil case brought by victims' families at Belfast High Court.
The Real IRA was also found liable for the attack in today's ruling.
After more than a decade it was a major breakthrough for those who demanded justice.
The relatives launched the action at the High Court in Belfast after the failure of the police to secure a criminal conviction over the 1998 Real IRA bombing in the Co Tyrone town.
They sued five men and the Real IRA as an organisation for up to £14 million in a case which made legal history when it sat to hear evidence in both Belfast and Dublin.
The case opened in April last year and completed hearing evidence in March.
Mr Justice Morgan - set to be Northern Ireland's next Lord Chief Justice - took three months to sift through the evidence and produce his judgment that the case was proved against the four men, none of whom attended the hearings.
McKevitt is a founding member of the Real IRA who is in prison in the Irish Republic;
Co Louth farmer Campbell is in custody in Northern Ireland facing a bid to extradite him to Lithuania to face arms smuggling charges.
Murphy, also from Louth, was found guilty in Dublin's Special Criminal Court of conspiring to cause the Omagh bomb but his conviction was later quashed.
A fifth man accused by the relatives, Seamus McKenna, was cleared today.
The only man to face criminal charges over the Omagh killings, Sean Hoey, 38, from Jonesborough, South Armagh, was acquitted in December 2007.
Judge Mr Justice Morgan awarded more than £1.6 million in damages to 12 named relatives who took the action.
The judge said it was clear that McKevitt was a senior figure in the dissident republican group at the time of the bombing and was heavily involved in the procurement of explosives.
He based much of this on evidence obtained by an undercover FBI agent, who infiltrated the organisation in the years after the attack.
"He held and has always held a significant leadership role in the Real IRA," the judge said of McKevitt.
Mr Morgan also based his findings in regard to Murphy on information obtained by the American agent, David Rupert.
The judge said he was satisfied that Campbell was a member of the Army Council of the Real IRA at the time of the bombing.
"I consider that the case against him is overwhelming," the judge said.
A mainstay of the families' case was records and traces on two phones used by the bombers on the day of the attack.
The judge said evidence proved that both Campbell and Daly were in possession of the phones before and after the attack.
After the hearing, one of the relatives, Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son, James, was killed in the attack, said he was delighted with the outcome.
"I never built my hopes up too much after what happened before," he said, "but I'm absolutely over the moon."
The judge said the case against Seamus McKenna was dismissed. It had been based on evidence from his estranged wife and he considered her an unreliable witness.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan died in the bombing, was delighted to have finally succeeded in their long battle.
"Eight years has just come to an end all of a sudden. It is a result better than we could ever have imagined."
Clearly stunned by the magnitude of the success, he said: "We have sent out an important message to terrorists and their victims around the world - you now have a way of challenging those who've murdered your loved ones.
"I think it is a tremendous moral victory for the families."
Monetary awards were always secondary for the families, who simply wanted the guilty men named in public.
"We will never collect a penny," he predicted.
He thanked the police in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, their legal team and the wider community for their support.
He pointed out that they raised £1.2 million to fund the case through public appeal and then went to the Government for the balance and it had little alternative but to help them.
Stanley McCombe, whose wife died in the bombing, said he was absolutely delighted at the judgment.
"It is a result we hoped for but didn't expect. We didn't build our hopes up because we've been let down so many times before.
"But a 5-1 win is a victory in anyone's eyes."
He added: "It was never about money. We can stand and say that these guys are responsible for Omagh, that's what we wanted."
He said the campaigning would continue and the relatives would not rest until they got the public inquiry they have sought for so long.
"We have to carry on fighting for that. There is nobody doing time for 29 murders and we have to have a public inquiry to see where things went wrong."
The eight-year legal battle cost an estimated £2 million, with the relatives having been backed in their fundraising efforts by, among others, the Daily Mail newspaper and former US president Bill Clinton.
Outside the courthouse, the relatives thanked all those who helped them in their long quest for justice.
Mr Gallagher also had a message for the four men found liable for the bombing: "You think you were clever enough to cover up your tracks and get away with this. You didn't figure on people like us standing up and using all the resources of the law.
"What we have done here today is within the law. What the Real IRA did was outside the law and we have proven that, if the criminal justice system is not capable of delivering some justice, at least civil law is and that's a very strong message we send around the world."
Men found liable for attack
The four men found liable at Belfast High Court today for the 1998 Omagh bombing are:
Originally from Blackrock, County Louth, the 59-year-old is serving a 20-year jail term in Portlaoise prison for organising Real IRA terrorism.
A former quartermaster in the Provisional IRA, he set up the splinter terror group in 1997 after falling out with the mainstream movement over its involvement in the peace process.
The judge, Mr Justice Morgan, said he had been actively involved in buying terrorist materials from as far back as 1986.
He was found guilty in 2003 in Dublin's Special Criminal Court for directing terrorism.
The offence was created by the state in response to the Omagh outrage.
He lost an appeal against his conviction last year.
The 46-year-old farmer from Upper Faughart, Dundalk, is in custody in Northern Ireland facing a bid to extradite him to Lithuania on arms smuggling charges.
He was jailed in the Republic of Ireland in 2004 for membership of the Real IRA.
According to Mr Justice Morgan, he was a member of the army council of the dissident group at the time of Omagh. He initially directed lawyers to defend him in the civil action but then instructed them to withdraw from proceedings.
He was arrested in Co Armagh last month having crossed the border from the Republic of Ireland, where extradition proceedings to bring him to Lithuania are already under way.
The authorities in the Baltic state are seeking him in connection with a foiled plot to bring arms and explosives into Ireland two years ago to support the Real IRA's campaign.
The 56-year-old builder and publican from Dundalk was found guilty of conspiring to cause the Omagh bombing in Dublin's Special Criminal Court in 2002.
His conviction was subsequently quashed and he is awaiting retrial.
Mr Justice Morgan said he was satisfied he was an active member of another republican splinter group - the Continuity IRA - at the time of Omagh.
He said the attack was a joint enterprise between CIRA and RIRA members.
The judge described him as a dedicated terrorist who has been an active participant in carrying out terror attacks over a long period.
The 34-year-old builder from Cullaville, County Monaghan was described during the civil case as a Real IRA foot soldier.
He was sentenced to three and a half years in jail in the Republic in 2004 after admitting membership of the proscribed organisation.
The judge said he was satisfied Daly was in possession of one of the two phones that, trace records indicate, were used by the occupants of the bomb car and the getaway car on the day of the attack.
The judge said the fact Daly had provided no answer to the evidence presented before the court further supported the case against him.
Earlier this month he was admitted to hospital after being beaten up by a number of men in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan.
Ten years of twists
August 15, 1998: At 3.10pm a 500lb car bomb explodes in Market Street, Omagh, killing 29 people — including a woman heavily pregnant with twins — and injuring 220 others.
September 1, 1998: Gerry Adams says the republican war is over.
September 7, 2000: Inquest into the bombing begins.
October 10, 2000: The BBC broadcasts the names of four men it claims are connected with the Omagh bombing.
August 11, 2001: Relatives of nine families begin a landmark civil action against five men they believed were responsible for the massacre. The Real IRA terror group which claimed responsibility for the bombing is also named as a defendant.
January 22, 2002: Colm Murphy convicted at a special non-jury Criminal Court in Dublin of conspiracy to cause an explosion.
August 6, 2003: Michael McKevitt is the first person ever convicted in the Republic of directing terrorism.
August 8, 2003: Victims' families are given £800,000 by the government to pursue their civil action.
January 21, 2005: Colm Murphy’s conviction overturned on appeal.
December 20, 2007: Sean Hoey acquitted of all 56 charges in connection with the Omagh bomb.
April 7, 2008: Civil action trial against Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy, Seamus McKenna and Seamus Daly begins at Belfast High Court.
May 12, 2008: Omagh civil action makes legal history by travelling to the Republic to hear evidence.
August 15, 2008: 10th anniversary of Omagh bombing.
September 15, 2008: Panorama claims the Government’s communications body GCHQ had been secretly recording telephone conversations between the bomb and scout cars en route to Omagh.
February 11, 2009: Families of Omagh bomb victims meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown to discuss revelations in a Panorama programme.
March 26, 2009: Omagh civil action draws to a close.
June 8, 2009: Mr Justice Morgan delivers verdict in ground-breaking civil trial.
Omagh bomb victims
Here is a list of the 29 people who died in the Omagh bombing:
James Barker, 12, Buncrana, Co Donegal. Originally from Surrey, England.
Fernando Blasco Baselga, 12, from Madrid, Spain.
Geraldine Breslin, 43, Omagh.
Deborah-Ann Cartwright, 20, Omagh.
Gareth Conway, 18, Carrickmore, Co Tyrone.
Breda Devine, 20 months, Donemana, Co Tyrone.
Oran Doherty, 8, Buncrana, Co Donegal.
Aiden Gallagher, 21, Omagh.
Esther Gibson, 36, Beragh, Co Tyrone.
Mary Grimes, 65, Beragh, Co Tyrone.
Olive Hawkes, 60, Omagh.
Julia Hughes, 21, Omagh.
Brenda Logue, 17, Omagh.
Ann McCombe, 45, Omagh.
Brian McCrory, 54, Omagh.
Samantha McFarland, 17, Omagh.
Sean McGrath, 61, Omagh.
Sean McLoughlin, 12, Buncrana, Co Donegal.
Jolene Marlow, 17, Omagh.
Avril Monaghan, 30, Augher, Co Tyrone (pregnant with twins).
Maura Monaghan, 18 months, Augher, Co Tyrone.
Alan Radford, 16, Omagh, Co Tyrone.
Rocio Abad Ramos, 23, Madrid, Spain.
Elizabeth Rush, 57, Omagh.
Veda Short, 46, Omagh.
Philomena Skelton, 39, Drumquin, Co Tyrone.
Fred White, 60, Omagh.
Bryan White, 27, Omagh.
Lorraine Wilson, 15, Omagh.