The decision to find Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt and three other dissident republicans liable for the Omagh bomb — the single worst atrocity of the Troubles — was flawed and tainted, Northern Ireland’s Court of Appeal has been told.
A sitting at Belfast High Court yesterday heard lawyers for McKevitt, currently serving 20 years in Portlaoise Prison for directing terrorism, his second-in-command Liam Campbell, who is awaiting extradition proceedings to Lithuania on alleged weapons charges, Seamus Daly, a suspected RIRA foot soldier and veteran Continuity IRA member Colm Murphy, had 16 grounds of appeal against last year’s landmark civil action which awarded damages of £1.6m to victims’ families.
No-one has ever been convicted in a criminal court of causing the 1998 atrocity in which 29 people died, including a woman pregnant with twins.
Mr Justice Morgan, now the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, also ruled that members of the Real IRA's Army Council bore responsibility for directing the attack as part of a terror campaign.
His verdict is now being challenged, with the victims' families cross-appealing the level of compensation awarded.
They are pressing for a more punitive award of exemplary damages against those held responsible.
Opening what has been listed as a two-week case in front of Lord Justices Higgins, Girvan and Coghlin, Michael O’Higgins SC representing Michael McKevitt attacked the credibility of the trucking boss turned FBI spy who infiltrated the Real IRA and helped bring down its leader
David Rupert, who is currently in a witness protection programme after appearing as a key prosecution witness in the criminal trial of McKevitt in Dublin in 2000, was forbidden from attending the civil action because of health and security reasons. But more than 900 emails between the spy and his handlers were submitted as evidence.
Yesterday Mr O’Higgins said 12 of his grounds of appeal related to Mr Rupert.
“David Rupert was a pathological liar, confidence trickster and a man who very strongly engaged in serial perjury,” Mr O’Higgins told the court.
He also said his solicitor had hired a private detective and found Mr Rupert to be “living openly”.
Mr O’Higgins also said the decision for his client not to take the stand during the civil action had been “catastrophic to his case”, while Mr Rupert’s unavailability gave the families an “artificial advantage”.
“The judge was denied the opportunity of hearing Mr Rupert and Mr McKevitt was denied an opportunity of even having a cross- examination of him, and we say failure to take account of these points being made rendered the ultimate decision made flawed,” he said.
The senior barrister, who travelled from Dublin for yesterday’s hearing, said he would be outlining “inconsistencies and contradictions” in the civil case judgment during his three days of submissions pledging to go through the original judgment “if not slavishly then very, very closely” in an effort to show the judge had not adequately considered the defence case.
“We are here to make arguments that the findings of the court are tainted,” he added.
“It is a fact that Mr Rupert has told lies all his life but this is not seen as significant,” added the senior barrister.
In the afternoon session yesterday, Mr O’Higgins said there was evidence to conclude that David Rupert, who received payment from the FBI for his work, would do just about anything for money.
Mr O’Higgins also argued that it had been speculative to find that McKevitt was involved in a perceived Real IRA change of policy to give less warning and vaguer information about bomb attacks leading up to Omagh.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Seamus Daly, Liam Campbell and Colm Murphy will argue their cases before a representative for the families urges the judges to award even greater compensation.