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Arlene Foster: Omagh bomb relatives 'deserve apology' on ruling delay

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Bomb horror: The scene of the Omagh bomb in 1998

Bomb horror: The scene of the Omagh bomb in 1998

PA

Michael Gallagher

Michael Gallagher

First Minister Arlene Foster. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

First Minister Arlene Foster. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

PA

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Bomb horror: The scene of the Omagh bomb in 1998

Families bereaved by the Omagh bombing deserve an apology over the length of time a court is taking to rule on a call for a public inquiry, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

The case began in 2013 and hearings finished in July 2019 but relatives are still awaiting the judgment.

The lord chief justice's office has blamed the situation on the assessment of "sensitive" documents.

On August 15, 1998, the Real IRA detonated a car bomb on Market Street killing 29 civilians, unborn twins, and injuring 220 others.

The 1998 blast was the worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Among those killed in the dissident republican car bomb was Michael Gallagher’s mechanic son Aiden aged 21.

The legal action was brought by Mr Gallagher, who has previously said the lives of the Omagh families are "on hold" while a judge decides whether to order a public inquiry.

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Mr Gallagher took action after former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers decided in 2013 not to order a public inquiry.

She argued instead that a probe by another former police ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, was the best way to address any outstanding issues.

The following year, Dr Maguire said Special Branch withheld some intelligence information from detectives trying to catch those responsible for the Omagh bombing.

Mr Gallagher believed his challenge to the government’s decision not to hold a public inquiry must have made legal history because it was so long-running.

Central to Mr Gallagher's judicial review case are claims that intelligence from MI5 and the police could have been drawn together to prevent the Real IRA attack.

There were national security issues around the hearing of evidence, which delayed matters, but it concluded in July 2019.

In October, Mr Gallagher was told to expect movement before Christmas, but nothing happened.

"From day one this has been dragged out," he told the BBC.

"We are getting no younger.

"We want to do other things in life but we cannot move on until we get answers."

Mr Gallagher said the process could be "simplified" if the government granted an inquiry.

"We support the police. We support the intelligence service.

"We just want answers - why things did not happen in the way they should have happened in the lead up to the Omagh bomb."

He has raised the case with political parties and met with Arlene Foster in recent days, who has described the delay as "inordinate".

The DUP leader said: "I do think that he, and all of the Omagh victims, deserve an apology.

"I think it is really sad that they find themselves in a situation where they have not been able to get answers."

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland said the judgment was "taking longer than initially anticipated".

It said the delay was due to the "sensitive nature of the material involved in the case".

It added: "The documents which the judge has to consider are stored in a secured area which can only be accessed during restricted hours and not at weekends.

"The judge's access to this material has to be scheduled around his workload in the High Court.

"He would like to reassure Mr Gallagher that he is reviewing this material thoroughly to ensure that he is taking into account all relevant evidence."


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