New Irish and UK inquiries into Real IRA atrocities urged as judge says ‘real prospect’ attack could have been stopped
Cross-border FRESH probes into the Omagh bombing should be launched as it is “plausible” that the atrocity could have been avoided, a judge said.
But Judge Mark Horner has said he will not order a public inquiry into the 1998 attack that left 29 people dead.
Yet in a harsh judgment, after a staggering eight-year legal process, he said security services failed to stop the carnage at the Real IRA despite having intelligence in advance. .
His ruling came in a High Court judgment in a case brought by Michael Gallagher, of whom 21-year-old son Aiden was one of the victims.
The horrific bomb death toll of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, makes it the biggest atrocity to take place during the unrest.
Dissidents loaded a car with explosives before parking it on the city’s busy market street on a Saturday afternoon in August.
An unclear bomb warning from terrorists saw dozens of people walking towards the car instead of backing away from it.
Although a number of men have been found responsible for the attack by a civilian court, no one has ever been found guilty by a criminal court.
“REAL PERSPECTIVE OF PREVENTING THE BOMB”
Judge Mark Horner said on Friday: “I am satisfied that there are certain grounds, taken separately or together, that give rise to plausible allegations that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing.”
He said they included “the consideration of terrorist activities on both sides of the border by prominent dissident terrorist Republicans leading up to the Omagh bomb”.
He said that it was not “in my power to order any kind of investigation in the Republic of Ireland”, but that there was “a real advantage in carrying out an investigation in accordance with Article 2 in the Republic of Ireland simultaneously with one in Northern Ireland. . “
The judge, dismissing Mr Gallagher’s long-term pressure for a public inquiry, said he “was not going to order a public inquiry to examine defensible grounds for prevention.”
But Mr Gallagher said he was encouraged by the judge’s conclusions set out at the brief hearing.
“SIGNIFICANT ISSUES” MUST BE PROBE
He said the results “confirm the consistent view that there are important issues that need to be properly investigated.
“The only mechanism that can bring truth and justice is a full public inquiry.”
The release of his full report, the judge said, would take place later as he is still being assessed to ensure that he does not reveal any sensitive information.
The leader who is self-isolating due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the judge explained.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said: “We recognize that today the tribunal has established that there are plausible allegations that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing” and that further should be done to investigate this.
“The UK government will take the time to carefully consider the judge’s statement and all of his recommendations until the full judgment is released.”
“DELAYED” REPORT ON SECURITY ISSUES
The court case began in 2013 and ended two years ago, but judgment has only been delivered now.
The Lord Chief Justice’s office blamed the delay in assessing classified documents related to the work of security agencies.
Mr Gallagher’s action came after a 2013 decision by former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers not to hold a public inquiry.
He in turn said he believed intelligence from MI5 and RUC could have been combined to reveal and prevent the Real IRA plans.
The High Court judge said the UK government should launch a new investigation into the Omagh bombing.
And he said the Irish government should do the same.
It was in light of documents which he said showed there was a “real prospect” that the attack could have been stopped.
NO PUBLIC INQUIRY
Judge Horner told the Belfast High Court: “I am not going to order a public inquiry to examine the arguable grounds of prevention. I do not intend to be prescriptive.
“However, it is up to the government (s) to conduct a section 2 investigation that can receive both open and closed documents.”
The judge added: “It is not in my power to order that any type of investigation take place in the Republic of Ireland, but there is a real advantage in an investigation in accordance with Article 2 is taking place in the Republic of Ireland simultaneously with one in Northern Ireland. “
He said any investigation should examine “whether a more proactive disruption campaign, particularly if coordinated north and south of the border, had a real prospect of preventing the bombing of Omagh.”
And he should consider that “the potential advantages of a much more aggressive approach towards suspected terrorists outweigh the potential disadvantages inherent in such an approach.”