23/07/2021

Judge Finds 'Real Prospect Of Preventing The Omagh Bombing'

A Judge has found that there was a "real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing".

Calling on both the UK and Irish governments to launch new investigations into the 1998 bombing, Mr Justice Horner delivered his conclusion in an application for judicial review brought by Michael Gallagher against the Secretary of State's refusal to hold a public inquiry into whether there had been a failure to investigate whether the Omagh bomb could have been prevented.

Mr Gallagher's son Aiden was one of the victims of the bombing incident.

Mr Justice Horner found "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 to require the investigation of those allegations has been reached. Any investigation will necessarily involve the scrutiny of both OPEN and CLOSED material obtained on both sides of the border. 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."
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The Judge added that he was not going to order a public inquiry to "look at the arguable grounds of preventability" but said: "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 [on the grounds as will be set out in the judgment]."

Responding to the judgement, Statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, 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."

Welcoming the recommendation of new investigations, Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley said: "I welcome the findings from the High Court today recommending that the British government hold a human rights compliant investigation into the 1998 Omagh bombing. 

"This recommendation is a tribute to the determination and courage of the families of all those killed in the atrocity and their long campaign for truth and justice. 

"The judge's comments that there is a real prospect the bombing could have been prevented will undoubtedly add to the distress of the families and leave them with further questions. 

"That is why it is vital that the British government act on the judge's recommendation and immediately move to announce a full, human rights compliant investigation into the exact circumstances of what happened. 

"Grieving families should not have to face any further delays or face any more obstacles when it comes to finding out the truth about the deaths of their loved ones."

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