Saturday 14 December 2019

Omagh families: We will keep fighting for justice

David Young and Michael McHugh

Families of Omagh bomb victims have pledged to stick with their marathon legal battle after two men successfully appealed a high court ruling that had found them responsible for the 1998 outrage.

Colm Murphy is set for a civil retrial and Seamus Daly could face similar legal proceedings after their appeals were allowed by Belfast High Court.

Challenges lodged by convicted Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt and fellow senior republican Liam Campbell over their liability for the attack were dismissed by a panel of three judges.

While no one has been successfully criminally convicted of the bombing, all four men were held responsible in a landmark civil action taken by some of the families two years ago.

Outside court Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed, said he accepted the findings of the appeal court but insisted he would see the retrial process through.

"We are disappointed, we have to accept the ruling of the court, which we do, but we are disappointed," he said.

"It has been a long struggle for the families, almost 10 years, it looks like this work will continue for a number of years forward.

"It is not something that we look forward to but if we feel it is the right thing to do we will continue to do that."

Stanley McCombe, who lost his wife Ann, said: "We will fight on to the bitter end."

He said he accepted it was unlikely anyone would ever be jailed for the attack and reiterated family demands for a cross-border public inquiry into the bombing and the subsequent police investigation.

"It has taken us a long time to get here, all we are asking for is the truth," he said.

Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, died when the Real IRA car bomb ripped through the Co Tyrone market town in August 1998. More than 200 were injured in the blast.

In Belfast High Court two years ago, Mr Justice Declan Morgan, now Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice, found the four men liable and ordered them to pay £1.6 million in compensation.

A separate bid by the families for that award to be increased was also rejected by the appeal court today.

Not all the bereaved relatives have backed the legal challenge and Kevin Skelton, whose wife Philomena died, said it had been a waste of time and money.

"At the end of the day it does not matter if the people are found guilty or not. They are not going to serve one minute (in jail)," he said.

"With regards to compensation, people will not get any money, it is a waste of time."

Lord Justice Malachy Higgins heard the appeal in January with fellow Lord Justices Paul Girvan and Patrick Coghlin.

Delivering their reserved ruling to the court, Lord Justice Higgins directed a retrial of the claims against Murphy, from Dundalk, Co Louth, and said the court would hear arguments on a potential retrial of Daly, from Cullaville, Co Monaghan, in the autumn.

The three judges questioned evidence surrounding emails from US undercover agent David Rupert in allowing Murphy's appeal.

"The paucity of the email evidence, the lack of consistency in the emails or at least ambiguity, the possibility of initials referring to someone other than Murphy and the fact that they refer on occasions to double hearsay considerably weakened the emails as evidence," they said.

"The judge's (Mr Justice Morgan's) conclusion that it was cogent evidence is not sustainable."

On Daly, they said Mr Justice Morgan appeared to have taken into account evidence that should have been excluded and seemed to have given weight to inadmissible evidence of a past conviction.

"Accordingly, his appeal will be allowed," they said.

On Real IRA chief McKevitt, who is from Blackrock, Co Louth but is currently serving a 20 year sentence in Portlaoise prison in the Republic of Ireland for directing terrorism, the appeal judges said: "McKevitt has failed to establish that the judge erred in reaching a conclusion that McKevitt was one of (those) responsible for trespass to the person in relation to the victims of the explosion."

They noted that Mr Justice Morgan found the case against Campbell, from Upper Faughart, Dundalk, Co Louth, to be "overwhelming".

This was based on evidence that he was a member of the Real IRA's army council at the time of the attack and that he was in possession of one of the mobile phones used by the bombers.

The appeal judges agreed with his findings.

They ruled that "linking the pieces of evidence together, the judge was justified in reaching the conclusion which he did".

Only one man has so far faced a criminal trial over the outrage.

In December 2007 Sean Hoey, from Jonesborough, South Armagh, was cleared at Belfast Crown Court of murdering the 29 people.

He was acquitted of 58 charges, including some not directly linked to the bombing.

At the time of the original civil case, the families' ground-breaking action had already cost 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.

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