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Omagh bombing: Judge calls for British and Irish probe but stops short of recommending public inquiry into ‘preventable’ attack

Attack ‘preventable’ judge finds

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(Paul McErlane/PA)

(Paul McErlane/PA)

(Paul McErlane/PA)

A High Court judge in Belfast has recommended the UK Government undertake a human rights compliant investigation into the Omagh bombing.

Mr Justice Mark Horner also called for an investigation on both sides of the Irish border.

However, he said he was not going to order that the probe take the form of a public inquiry, explaining that he did not want to be "prescriptive".

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said the UK Government would “consider” the Judge’s recommendations around an inquiry.

The Taoiseach Micheal Martin also said his government would do what is "necessary” following the ruling.

The judge also found there was a "real prospect" the Real IRA attack in 1998 could have been prevented.

He made the ruling at Belfast High Court in a case brought by Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was one of the victims.

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Mr Gallagher launched the judicial review after former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers decided not to order a public inquiry.

In his ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Horner said: “I am satisfied that certain grounds when considered separately or together give rise to plausible allegations that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing.

"These grounds involve, inter alia, the consideration of terrorist activity on both sides of the border by prominent dissident terrorist republicans leading up to the Omagh bomb.

"I am therefore satisfied that the threshold under Article 2 ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) to require the investigation of those allegations has been reached."

In a brief hearing, Mr Justice Horner only read the conclusion of his judgment to the High Court.

He explained he was unable to read the full open judgment setting out his reasoning because the person whose job it was to check the document to ensure it did not contain sensitive material was self-isolating with Covid-19.

He also said he did not have the powers to order the authorities in the Irish Republic to act, but he expressed hope the Irish Government would take a decision to order one.

"I am not going to order a public inquiry to look at the arguable grounds of preventability. I do not intend to be prescriptive. However, it is for the government(s) to hold an investigation that is Article 2 compliant and which can receive both open and closed materials."

The judge added: "It is not within my power to order any type of investigation to take place in the Republic of Ireland but there is a real advantage in an Article 2 compliant investigation proceeding in the Republic of Ireland simultaneously with one in Northern Ireland.

"Any investigation will have to look specifically at the issue of whether a more proactive campaign of disruption, especially if co-ordinated north and south of the border, had a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing, and whether, without the benefit of hindsight, the potential advantages of taking a much more aggressive approach towards the suspected terrorists outweighed the potential disadvantages inherent in such an approach."

Campaigners launched the action in 2013 in an attempt to force an inquiry into the Real IRA atrocity in 1998 which killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.

It was the worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict.

While there has never been a conviction for the bombing, in 2009 four men were found civilly liable for the attack.

Responding to the judgment, Brandon Lewis said: "The Omagh bombing was a terrible atrocity that caused untold damage to the families of the 29 people who were tragically killed and the 220 who were injured. The reverberations of that awful event were felt not just in Northern Ireland, but across the world.

"I want to put on record my deep regret that the families of those killed and wounded have had to wait so long to find out what happened on that terrible day in 1998. They deserve answers and I have great respect for their patience, grace and determination.

"We recognise that today the court has set out that there are 'plausible allegations that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing' and that more should be done to investigate this.

"The UK Government will take time to consider the judge's statement and all its recommendations carefully as we wait for the full judgment to be published."

Taoiseach Michael Martin told reporters he would “analyse that judgement”.

"I always stand ready to have an open book in terms of any atrocity that was committed which had a cross-border dimension to it in terms of following through in any way we can through the provision of information or indeed to vindicating the rights of people and citizens,” he said.

"So, a very open book in terms of how we proceed with this now but we've got to examine the options that are available to us in respect of the conclusions."


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