Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Names of these four men will go down in ignominy

It has taken 15 years, but at last the Omagh families have received a modicum of justice, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Let's remember a few facts about the 1998 Omagh bombing, for which Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell and, on Wednesday, for the second time, Seamus Daly and Colm Murphy, have been found responsible in a civil court.

The victims who were murdered on that sunny Saturday afternoon were two babies (and two about to be born), three schoolgirls, four schoolboys, six students, four housewives, three shop assistants, a despatch clerk, a shopkeeper, a crane driver, a mechanic, a horticulturalist, a retired accounts clerk and a retired baker.

Eleven were children, 12 were women, two were from the Irish Republic, one from England and two from Spain. They were Protestants, Catholics and a Mormon.

The Real IRA – mostly disaffected Provos – pleaded that they had been aiming not at civilians, but at "a commercial target, part of an ongoing war against the Brits", and tried to blame the RUC, which, in fact, had done a heroic job in responding to the botched warnings. They could not explain away leaving a 500lb bomb in a market town on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The Continuity IRA, who (like the Irish National Liberation Army) had collaborated, reneged on an agreement to take partial responsibility

The police investigation was grievously hampered from the start. The murders had been carried out in Northern Ireland, but the car, the explosives, the phones and most of the suspects came from the Republic. Ideally, there should have been a joint inquiry by the RUC and the Garda, but 30 years of mutual suspicion inhibited the sharing of information.

Pressure from politicians, the Press and shopkeepers meant Omagh was opened to the public too early to preserve forensic integrity and there was Omerta, which made it impossible to find republican witnesses prepared to talk. Although the PIRA had stopped killing people, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness refused to ask republicans to give relevant information to either police force. Only one man has been prosecuted for the bombing under criminal law. CIRA's Murphy, a building contractor whose mobile phone was tracked on the bomb-delivery route, was charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion likely to endanger life, or cause injury, in February 1999. Convicted in 2002, he later had the verdict overturned.

In anger and despair at the inability of the criminal law to deliver justice, Victor Barker, an English solicitor, in co-operation with Michael Gallagher, another bereaved father, and the Omagh Support and Self-Help Group, would set the wheels in motion for an unprecedented civil action.

As the solicitor Jason McCue, who took the case, said: "We were English lawyers trying to bring a case for which there was no case law, against Irish terrorists, who were bombing Omagh, on behalf of victims who had no money, who had suspects that the police could not bring to criminal prosecution."

The five men against whom there seemed then the best case were served with writs in 2001 and were given legal aid. The families managed to raise £1.2m and then Peter Mandelson persuaded the Government that there should be a level financial playing-field.

In 2009, McKevitt and Campbell, who ordered the bombing, Murphy (phone-provider) and Daly (who drove the bomb, or scout car) were found liable and ordered to pay £1.6m damages. McKevitt and Campbell lost on appeal, but Murphy and Daly were given retrials, which, on Wednesday, they lost. It has been a long and exhausting road for the families, but their reward is that the names of these four men will go down in ignominy for the greatest atrocity of the Troubles.

It may seem too little and too late, but there has been some justice.

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