PSNI unlawfully passed on Omagh files, says lawyer
Police acted unlawfully by supplying investigative material for use in the Omagh bomb civil action, a court has heard.
Telephone records and other confidential information should not have been passed over to lawyers representing the victims' families, it was claimed.
Counsel for one of the four dissident republicans held liable for the atrocity, Mary Higgins QC, hit out at the PSNI co-operation as part of a wider attack on the level of Government backing for the lawsuit.
Twenty-nine people, including the mother of unborn twins, died in the August 1998 explosion.
Relatives of some of those killed were awarded damages of more than £1.6 million in total after successfully suing the men.
In a landmark verdict in June 2009, Mr Justice Morgan, now the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, ruled that jailed terror chief Michael McKevitt, Co Louth farmer Liam Campbell, Dundalk-based builder and publican Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly, from Cullaville, Co Monaghan, were all liable for the bombing.
He also held that the Real IRA's Army Council bore responsibility for directing the attack.
The judgment is now being challenged, with the victims' families also pressing for a more punitive award of exemplary damages against those held liable.
Ms Higgins, appearing for Daly, told the Court of Appeal that the police failed to meet a legal obligation to act impartially in the case. She said: “We argue that the disclosure of material to the plaintiffs was unlawful and contrary to the Data Protection Act.”
According to her case, mobile phone records and sensitive personal data should not have been supplied because it was not necessary for the administration of justice.
“In relation to the PSNI's obligations, they acted unlawfully in disclosing it to others,” she submitted.
The barrister claimed the overall amount of assistance provided to the plaintiffs demonstrated not only an “inequality of arms”, but also that the state believed this was an action which had to go ahead.
The rules were changed to benefit the families taking the case rather than all sides being treated the same, she told the three judges hearing the appeal.
The barrister claimed it was unfair that the defendants' legal representatives had not received answers to Freedom of Information requests made to the police service.
But reflecting on her submissions Lord Justice Coghlin, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Girvan, remarked: “If the police carried out some investigation and were in possession of some material which could help victims of crime and weren't allowed to make it available, it would be a rather sad society.”
The appeal continues.