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The tide’s finally starting to turn, say families of Omagh victims

Relatives demand public inquiry after judge rules that atrocity could have been prevented

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Wreckage: A Ministry of Defence photo showing the devastation after the Omagh bomb in 1998. Credit: MoD/Crown copyright

Wreckage: A Ministry of Defence photo showing the devastation after the Omagh bomb in 1998. Credit: MoD/Crown copyright

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Michael Gallagher. Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

Michael Gallagher. Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

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Wreckage: A Ministry of Defence photo showing the devastation after the Omagh bomb in 1998. Credit: MoD/Crown copyright

The father of a victim of the Omagh bomb said he felt relief, sadness and vindication after a High Court judge ruled yesterday that there was a “real prospect” it could have been prevented.

But Michael Gallagher added the feelings fell short of happiness after an eight-year legal battle ended in a few moments.

The bombing on August 15, 1998, killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. It was the single worst atrocity of the Troubles.

Delivering his judgment in a legal challenge against the government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry, Mr Justice Horner said a human rights-compliant probe was needed to examine whether a more proactive security approach against dissident republicans in the lead-up to the bombing could have thwarted it.

Mr Gallagher’s son Aiden was killed in the blast. Supported by other Omagh families, the grieving father launched a judicial review against the government’s refusal to order a public inquiry into security failings prior to the atrocity.

After yesterday’s ruling, he said: “It’s one thing for me to say and other families to say Omagh was a preventable atrocity, but when you hear from a senior judge, that takes it to a new level.

“The government cannot ignore what the judgment was.”

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Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, who has supported the families in their calls for a public inquiry, also urged the government to act.

“The judge has considered the evidence and, in my view, given a very clear verdict,” she said

“The government needs to comply with the recommendations for a public inquiry and there must be a parallel inquiry from the Irish government.

“I have supported the families in their call for this for a long time.

“It has been my view throughout their years of campaigning that the Omagh bomb could have been prevented.

“While I did not mention this in 2001, in the initial investigation, evidence supplied afterwards left me in no doubt.

“But this has been a terribly long time in coming. For 23 years now, the Omagh families have been tied up in inquiries, court cases. Even though this [judgment] is positive news for them, I know this will still have been a very difficult day.

“They will have had to relive the pain again. They have been reliving that pain all these years.

“Now there’s an obligation for the governments in Britain and Ireland to provide for a public inquiry. That could not be clearer. I very much hope it happens as soon as possible.”

Delivering his ruling, Mr Justice Horner recommended that the government launch an investigation and urged the Irish government to do likewise.

He said he was not going to specifically order that the UK probe take the form of a public inquiry because as he did not want to be “prescriptive” about how any investigation was carried out.

He stressed he did not have the powers to order the authorities in the Republic to act, but he expressed hope the government in Dublin would take a decision to investigate events around the bomb, which was transported into Northern Ireland from over the border.

Mr Gallagher called on the government to act immediately.

“They need to take note and not drag this on and on to another appeal,” he said.

“The judge was very specific. He even went where I thought he not would go [by] talking about a cross-border element to any inquiry, which we have always wanted.

“It’s been a long time coming and it was so short when it came. My wife was saying ‘Is that it?’ It was over.

“The only inquiry left that can look into these serious questions of intelligence failures is a public inquiry. It’s there we can look at the sensitive intelligence issues. The government has had its hands tied by this now. We are enormously relieved. ‘Pleased’ would be the wrong word, but the tide is starting to turn.”

Stanley McCombe who lost his wife Ann in the atrocity, said the ruling gave the still heartbroken families “some hope”.

“It took some time for it to sink in. On the surface, it is fantastic to finally be heard, but we have known this and survived this for the last 20 years,” he added.

“The amount of work [involved] for myself, Michael and our legal teams in getting to the court... it is only right that we get an investigation.”

Linda White’s father and brother Fred and Bryan White had just returned from holiday when they were killed in the explosion. It is something that her mother Edith has lived with for the past 23 years.

“This has officially confirmed our opinion that this could have been prevented, but it’s devastating that my father and brother and so many others had to die,” she said.

“I couldn’t tell you the words I felt as we sat down to hear the verdict. We have had to remain hopeful that truth will come out. This is another step towards that.

“Now it has been said officially there needs to be a further inquiry that has to happen for the sake of the families, for everyone in Omagh.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: “The 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 Micheal Martin said the judgment demanded “very serious reflection and analysis” by both the UK and the Irish governments.


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