Two republicans being sued by relatives of victims of the Omagh bomb have been challenged to break their silence and testify in court.
Evidence allegedly linking Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly to the 1998 Real IRA attack demands an explanation, a lawyer for the bereaved families told Belfast High Court as the men's civil retrial began.
Murphy, a builder and publican from Dundalk, Co Louth, and Daly, a bricklayer from Cullaville, Co Monaghan, were ordered to face new proceedings after they successfully appealed against a landmark ruling which had found them and two other men liable for the atrocity. Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, died when the dissident republican car bomb ripped through the Co Tyrone market town on August 15, 1998. More than 200 were injured in the blast.
Lord Brennan QC, representing the Omagh families pursing the civil action, noted that neither man had given evidence during the first trial, or had even turned up for any of the hearings. Neither was present on the first day of their retrial in front of Justice John Gillen. The barrister said if they took the same approach to this case it would indicate they were treating the court with "indifference".
"Neither of the defendants has given any indication whatsoever if they intend to call any evidence," he added.
Lord Brennan said both men were funded through legal aid and were ably represented by solicitors and lawyers. Referring to legal guidelines on when a negative inference could be drawn if a defendant did not take the stand, he added: "If a case is raised - answer it. If you don't, the inference may be drawn against you - it's just common sense."
No one has been successfully criminally convicted of the bombing, but in 2009 Murphy, Daly and two others were held responsible in a landmark civil action taken by some of the bereaved families. With Real IRA chief Michael McKevitt and Co Louth republican Liam Campbell, the men were ordered to pay £1.6 million in damages.
Opening the case for the families, Lord Brennan outlined mobile phone evidence which he alleged linked both Daly and Murphy to the bombing. He highlighted records tracking two Republic of Ireland registered phone making calls to each other as they moved toward Omagh on the day of the bomb and then back across the Irish border.
McKevitt, who is serving a 20 year prison sentence in the Irish Republic for directing terrorism, and Campbell, who is fighting extradition to Lithuania on arms smuggling charges, failed in their bids to overturn the Omagh civil judgment. They are now seeking to have their case heard in the European Court for Human Rights.
Murphy and Daly's appeals were upheld but both men were ordered to face another trial. At the conclusion of the original civil case, the families' ground-breaking action had already cost them an estimated £2 million. They were supported in their efforts to raise funds for the court case by former US president Bill Clinton, former Northern Ireland secretaries Peter Mandelson and Sir Patrick Mayhew, as well as musician Bob Geldof and boxing champion Barry McGuigan. Not all the families support the legal bid, with some claiming it is a waste of time that will not deliver a prison sentence.