Thursday 12 December 2019

Families' anger over censored Omagh inquiry

Families of Omagh bomb victims hit out at the British Government for censoring an official probe that examined whether vital intelligence was withheld from detectives hunting the Omagh bombers.

The relatives demanded to know what the British Government was trying to hide after a parliamentary committee that conducted its own inquiry into the bombing revealed the Prime Minister had denied them access to the the review of the security services' role.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has called for a fresh investigation into the part played by intelligence agents in the yet unsolved dissident republican attack 12 years ago and if crucial data that could have led to arrests was kept from police officers.

But after outlining the inquiry findings at Stormont on Tuesday, committee chair Sir Patrick Cormack criticised Gordon Brown for only letting them see a heavily edited version of the British Government's own report on the controversial claims carried out by Intelligence Services Commissioner Sir Peter Gibson.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden was of the 29 people killed in the Real IRA attack, said this was not acceptable and reiterated the bereaved families' long-standing demand for a full public inquiry into the bombing.

"This (the committee) is the watchdog on government in Northern Ireland and here they are saying there are a number of very serious deficiencies, that the government is refusing to co-operate, the Prime Minister did not allow Sir Patrick to see the Gibson report in private, even in the House of Commons.

"I think the honest average man in the street will always say there must be a reason, other than the reason that it could give an advantage to terrorists. Sir Patrick wasn't going to give any advantage to a terrorist so there's not much left for families to believe other than that government have something there that's going to embarrass them and they don't want to disclose that to the families. That's the only possible answer that I can imagine."

Downing Street defended the decision not to release Sir Peter's report to the committee, highlighting that the chair of the UK Intelligence and Security Committee Kim Howells had seen it.

No one has ever been successfully convicted of the Omagh bomb, with the only man jailed in connection with the attack, 57-year-old Co Louth builder Colm Murphy, cleared last month after a retrial in Dublin. While the affairs committee stopped short of calling for a public inquiry, Mr Gallagher said the truth of what happened on that day in August 1998 could only be found through such a judicial hearing.

Godfrey Wilson, whose 15-year-old daughter Lorraine was killed, echoed his call. "We're looking for a cross border public inquiry, a full judicial public inquiry," he said. "There's too many questions on both sides of the border - before, during and after the tragedy - that haven't been answered. I feel it would help my life to know how the things progressed."

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