Omagh bomb families once again cruelly let down by justice system
On August 15, 1998, a 500lb bomb planted by the Real IRA exploded in Omagh, killing 31 people - two unborn twins, two babies, three schoolgirls, four schoolboys, six students, four housewives, three shop assistants, a dispatch clerk, a shopkeeper, a crane driver, a mechanic, a horticulturalist, a retired accounts clerk and a teacher.
The victims' families have tenaciously and relentlessly campaigned for justice after what was the worst single atrocity of the Troubles and which came only months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. That campaign now lies in ashes.
The families must feel they have been victimised twice; firstly and most cruelly by the evil terrorists who planted the bomb, and secondly, and most dismayingly, by the entire justice system. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, they were promised by the Prime Ministers of the UK and the Republic that no stone would be left unturned in the hunt for those responsible. That was a hollow promise.
A botched police investigation and failed prosecutions have meant no one has ever been made amenable for an atrocity which shocked and shamed even this province, inured as it was to years of violence and mayhem.
The only pyrrhic victory came when the families won a civil action against a number of men thought to have been involved in the bombing. They were awarded damages but with no prospect of ever being able to collect them.
Yesterday, what appears to have been their last hope of gaining a criminal conviction disappeared when the case against Seamus Daly was thrown out. It was a prosecution seemingly built on such shaky foundations that the merest breath of interrogation sent the whole edifice crumbling to the ground.
The families must wonder how it met the test for going to court - that it was in the public interest and had a realistic chance of gaining a conviction. That is a question that the Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory must answer. To add insult to the families, they were informed of the case collapse while on their way to the court. No one had thought to contact them first, when it was apparent that the supposed star witness's evidence would not stand up.
One can only admire the dogged determination of the families to get justice and their dignity and stoicism when they suffered blow after blow from the very people they thought could deliver that justice to them.
Their last demand - made more in hope than expectation - is for a public inquiry into the bombing. That simply will not happen.
Yet they deserve some answers, or as much truth as can be established, in the absence of a full confession by the bombers.
A review along the lines of the Da Silva inquiry into the death of solicitor Pat Finucane could be the way forward.
The Finucane family rejected that report, yet it contains a huge amount of information and background context on that murder. A similar exercise might bring some closure to the ever-grieving families of Omagh.