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Belfast judge finds there was a 'real prospect' 1998 Omagh bombing could have been prevented

He urged the UK and Irish governments to undertake a human rights compliant investigation.

Image: PA

Updated Jul 23rd 2021, 3:29 PM

A HIGH COURT judge in Belfast has recommended the UK government undertake a human rights compliant investigation into the Omagh bombing.

The judge urged the Irish Government to do likewise, after finding there was a “real prospect” the Real IRA attack in 1998 could have been prevented.

The UK Government said it will take time to consider the judge’s ruling while families of the victims of the bombing said they feel “vindicated” by the decision.

Mr Justice Horner told Belfast High Court: “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 (European Convention on Human Rights) to require the investigation of those allegations has been reached.

Judge Horner said he was not going to order that the probe take the form of a public inquiry, explaining that he did not want to be “prescriptive”.

He also said he did not have the powers to order the authorities in the Irish Republic to act, but he expressed hope the Irish government would take a decision to order one.

“I am not going to order a public inquiry to look at the arguable grounds of preventability,” he said.

“I do not intend to be prescriptive. 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.”

The judge added: “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.

In a brief hearing, Mr Justice Horner only read the conclusion of his judgment to Belfast High Court.

He explained he was unable to read the full open judgement setting out his reasoning because the person whose job it was to check the document to ensure it did not contain sensitive material was self-isolating with Covid-19.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said the UK government will take time to consider the judge’s ruling that there should be a new investigation into the bombing.

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,” Lewis said.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the Irish government would do what is “necessary” following the long-awaited ruling.

Martin said the government had an “open book” policy in terms of providing information.

The father of a man killed in the Omagh bombing has hailed the judicial call for fresh investigations into alleged cross-border security failings as the “beginning of the end” of his long quest for justice.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden died in the Real IRA attack, launched a legal challenge against the UK Government’s decision not to hold a public inquiry in 2013.

Eight year later, and after case delays he branded “scandalous”, Mr Gallagher said today’s ruling was “absolutely amazing”.

“We knew from, really, over 20 years that this was a preventable atrocity, but it’s one thing for me to say it, it’s an entirely different thing for a senior High Court judge to,” said Mr Gallagher.

“I just felt sadness on one side and relief on the other that, you know, we got it right and people have looked at this and believed us.”

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