Relatives seek review of UK decision on Omagh inquiry

Families say reasons given by Northern Secretary Theresa Villers for not holding inquiry are ‘trivial’

Thu, Sep 12, 2013, 22:01

Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers today has rejected calls for a public cross-Border inquiry into the 1998 Real IRA Omagh bombing that claimed the lives of 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins.

The decision announced in a statement this morning by Ms Villiers has angered the Omagh families who have been calling for a cross-Border inquiry for several years. No one has been convicted for the attack.

A number of the families said they plan to seek a judicial review of the decision.

“I do not believe that there are sufficient grounds to justify a further review or inquiry above and beyond those that have already taken place or are ongoing,” said Ms Villiers.

“This was not an easy decision to make and all views were carefully considered. I believe that the ongoing investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is the best way to address any outstanding issues relating to the police investigation into the Omagh attack,” she added.

A letter was hand delivered to members of the Omagh families this morning informing them of Ms Villiers’ decision.

Her decision which comes ahead of the Haass talks on the past, parades and flags, raises questions as to whether the Government will follow suit and declare a cross-Border inquiry can’t happen in light of the Northern Secretary’s decision.

Her move appears to rule out the possibility of such a comprehensive investigation.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government was still examining the claims made in the families’ report.

“The Government are (sic) in possession of the report from the families and the Minister for Justice (Alan Shatter) is considering that,” Mr Kenny said.

Mr Kenny stressed he was prepared to meet and listen to concerns raised by Troubles’ victims, and not just those from Omagh.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said: “We are hugely conscious of the continuing suffering of the families following the horrific bomb that was let off in Omagh.

Mr Gilmore said he would meet Ms Villiers shortly have a “formal discussion” about her decision.

“We also have to bear in mind that the Omagh bomb was planted by terrorist organisations which are still active, which we still have to deal with, which is the subject of intention from the security police forces in this state and in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described the decision as “a mistake”. The Sinn Fein politician said he supports the families in their plans to seek a judicial review. “Theresa Villiers has closed down a demand that the families have had for many years and a real hope that the families have had that they would get a proper investigation into what happened,” he said, speaking on a five-day economic trip to New York with First Minister Peter Robinson.

The DUP leader acknowledged there were many people looking for justice who will be hurt by the decision. However, the rejection of a public inquiry would not stop “a more thorough investigation” taking place into who was responsible for the bombing.

“There are a lot of areas that have been raised by the families that need to be thoroughly investigated. People want to know what happened,” he said. “I think we both support the fact that we want the truth to come about what happened in Omagh and we want people to be held to account for it.”

He declined to comment on whether the families were right to seek a judicial review, saying it was a “legal matter” and he was “not going to go into how successful that might be.” He said there was “a very strong case” for the bombing to be the subject of a more thorough investigation similar to the new coroner’s inquest recently ordered into the deaths of 10 Protestant workmen murdered by the IRA in the 1976 Kingsmill massacre.

Ms Villiers said she had previously met representatives of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, as had a number of her predecessors to discuss the issue, and was willing to meet them again to explain her decision further if they wished.

“The fact remains that the Real IRA carried out the bombing in Omagh on August 15th, 1998, murdering 29 people and injuring many more. Responsibility is theirs alone,” said Ms Villiers. “I sincerely hope that the ongoing police investigation will bring to justice those responsible for this brutal crime.”

The Northern Ireland Office said there was support for an inquiry among a number of survivors and families of those killed in the bomb, but “others felt that a further inquiry would cause them considerable trauma”.

“All these views were weighed against other factors, including the series of previous inquiries into the Omagh bomb and the current investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland,” added the NIO.

Last month just ahead of the August 15th fifteenth anniversary of the bombing the families said documents they presented to the British and Irish governments over a year ago showed there was substantial evidence that dissident republicans were planning an attack on Omagh.

The families claimed that information was not properly shared between the relevant police forces and intelligence services including MI5 and the FBI.

The families said last month that if necessary they were prepared to go to the courts to try to compel the British and Irish governments to hold and inquiry.

Former Northern Ireland police ombudsman Dame Nuala O’Loan, who while in office carried out her own investigation into the bombing, and former Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner and counter terrorism chief Bob Quick have publicly backed the call for an inquiry.

Amnesty International has also added its voice to demands for a full independent inquiry.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden (21) was among the victims, condemned the decision, describing the reasons given by Ms Villiers for ruling out a public inquiry as “trivial”.

He told Sky News: “Should we be denied truth and justice because other people don’t want it?” Referring to his belief that the bomb attack could have been prevented, he said: “The reality is that Aiden need not have died.”

He added: “Both the British and Irish governments failed to protect the human rights of those people.” And he said that victims’ families would be mounting a legal challenge to the decision by Ms Villiers.

Mr Gallagher said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the decision. “I think it’s important to note that this is a government who are actually holding other governments to account over human rights abuses,” he said.

“Last week they wanted permissions from Parliament to go to war, or to launch attacks on Syria. Over a year ago we gave this Government a report which showed that state agencies had failed and 31 people had died and 250 were injured unnecessarily.”

While no one has been criminally convicted of the crime, four republicans were found liable for the atrocity in a civil case taken by some of the bereaved relatives and ordered to pay £1.6 million in compensation.

Last month families of some of the victims outlined details of an independent report they commissioned into alleged intelligence failings on both sides of the border in the lead up to the atrocity and with the subsequent criminal investigations.

Additional reporting: PA