Omagh bombing: Real IRA terrorists appeal to European Court
Families of those killed in the Omagh bombing react with fury as two Real IRA terrorists go to European Court of Human Rights to avoid paying them damages
TWO Real IRA terrorists who were ordered to pay compensation over the Omagh bombing could have the ruling overturned by the European Court of Human Rights after their case cleared an important legal hurdle, it can be disclosed today.
Michael McKevitt and Liam Campbell were ordered to pay a share of more than €2m in aggravated damages after being found liable for the 1998 atrocity in a landmark civil action brought by relatives of the victims.
However, they have taken their appeal against the ruling to Europe and crucially, have crossed the first hurdle towards having the civil case against them overturned by the European court in Strasbourg.
The Sunday Telegraph in Britain reveals today that last month (March), the court allowed the pair’s case to pass through a “filtering” stage which is designed to weed out ineligible applications. It means the Government must give its response to the terrorists’ arguments before European judges decide whether the case should go ahead for a full hearing.
Last night, there was outrage among the families of the Omagh victims at the prospect of the pair using European human rights laws to have the damages order quashed.
One British MP said it was “morally perverse” and warned that any intervention by Strasbourg would be a further assault on British democracy, while a leading barrister and former counter-terrorism watchdog urged European judges to think carefully before allowing the case to progress any further.
Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden was killed in the blast, described the latest development as a “psychological blow for victims”.
He said: “There seems to be no effective law for giving rights to victims. The human rights laws to me would need to be looked at it again. It has always favoured the killer gangs and organisations and never the victims. It’s always weighted on the side of the perpetrator and this news is extremely disappointing.
“We are still working under human rights law formed many years ago to deal with the Nazis in Germany post-second world war and what seems to be happening since the 1970s is terrorism is the new Nazism and there has been no effective human rights legislation focused on the victims.”
The use of human rights legislation by the terrorists also raises fresh questions about Europe’s influence over the British legal system, following rows over the deportation of foreign criminals and a controversial decision which said ministers must allow prisoners to vote.
The Omagh bombing was Northern Ireland’s worst single terrorist atrocity; a 500lb car bomb in the small town in Co Tyrone that killed 29 people, including a woman expecting twins, and injured hundreds of others.
The Real IRA, who were opposed to the peace process, admitted responsibility for the blast but the authorities failed to secure a criminal conviction against any of those alleged to have been responsible.
Undeterred, the bereaved families decided to pursue a civil claim for damages. In 2009, they won their first victory when the Belfast High Court ordered McKevitt, Campbell and their fellow Republicans Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly to pay £1.6 million in damages over the Omagh bombing. It was the first time that members of a terrorist organisation had been sued in this way.
There was an appeal to the Court of Appeal in 2011, which the Republicans lost. They applied for permission to go to the Supreme Court, but were refused. A retrial in March last year of the civil case against Murphy and Daly delivered the same outcome as the earlier hearing, and the families said they were determined to make the four men pay up.
Last January however, it emerged that McKevitt, 64, who is currently serving a 20 year jail sentence after being convicted of IRA membership and directing terrorism by a Dublin court in 2003, and Campbell, 52, a fellow dissident Republican who was jailed for eight years by the same court in 2004 for IRA membership, had applied to European judges in a final bid to escape responsibility.
Lawyers for the pair claimed their rights had been breached under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a fair trial – by the decision to allow hearsay evidence to be admitted against them from David Rupert, an FBI agent who had infiltrated dissident Republican terrorist groups in the years after the Omagh attack.
Their case could have been thrown out at the initial stages by the Strasbourg court. However, now it has passed through the initial filtering stage it means the pair have crossed the first hurdle towards having the civil case against them overturned by Strasbourg.
In a separate development earlier this month Seamus Daly, 43, one of the men named alongside McKevitt and Campbell in the original civil action, was charged with 29 counts of murder over the Omagh car bomb.
Stanley McComb, whose wife Ann was killed in the blast, said of McKevitt and Campbell’s move: ““Those b******* will go to any length and any extreme and it’s all just a cynical exercise for them. These guys are just terrorists, murderers and yet and all they can get all the support they need to get this into a European court?
“What is wrong with the judicial system that is allowing this to happen? And this is all a moneymaking exercise for the legal profession too. Britain paid all their legal aid for their defence against the civil action which was outrageous, totally, totally outrageous.”
Mr McComb added that he and the other relative had yet to see a penny of the compensation awarded to them. He said: “This needs to be spelt out to the people of this country, we got nothing. I think the money should come from the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) the Irish Government set up to recover criminal funds. They have plenty of money in that. That’s all IRA money in some form, be it Provo, 32-County, Continuity, they’re all the one sow’s pigs, they’re all terrorists.”
Dominic Raab, a Conservative MP who has campaigned for reform of human rights laws, said: “This case is wrong at every level. It’s morally perverse that human rights are being used by two terrorists, held responsible by an independent and fair court, to try to deny justice for the long-suffering victims.
“And it’s yet another attack on our democracy for the Strasbourg court to entertain a case that has been right the way through our own appeal system.”
Lord Carlile of Berriew, a leading QC who served as the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation until 2011, warned that Strasbourg judges needed to “exercise a high degree of caution” before going any further.
“It seems to me that this is one of those cases where the European Court of Human Rights would be extremely cautious before intervening in a case which has been decided on the facts,” Lord Carlile said. “This civil action was a landmark case, principally because at the time the prosecuting authorities were not proceeding with any charges.
“The fact that the relatives took that civil action and won has been a significant factor in later developments. It is seen as a landmark because the victims’ families have been able to contribute to the decision-making process, and it shows what people in their position can achieve.”
He added: “The Strasbourg court is there to decide issues of great principle and in my view there is not a great principle in this case.”
The disclosure of the Strasbourg case comes just days after the most senior judge in England and Wales questioned the role of European judges in another terrorism case involving a man accused of conspiracy with Abu Hamza, the Islamic extremist.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice, warned that Strasbourg’s intervention had “constrained” the British courts and indicated they should stay out of similar cases in the future.
By David Barrett, Telegraph.co.uk