Omagh bomb atrocity could have been prevented - court is told

The scene in Omagh after the 1998 bombing.
The scene in Omagh after the 1998 bombing.

The Omagh bomb atrocity could and should have been prevented, the High Court heard today [Wednesday].

Lawyers for the father of one of those killed in the blast claimed there was enough intelligence available ahead of the terror strike.

Michael Gallagher is seeking to judicially review Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers over her decision to rule out a public inquiry into the Real IRA attack.

His son Aiden was among 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, who died in the August 1998 outrage.

Together with relatives of some other victims, Mr Gallagher is campaigning for a cross-border investigation into allegations that the security services could have done more to thwart the bombers.

They took their battle to court after Ms Villiers announced last September that there were insufficient grounds to justify a further inquiry.

Stressed that an ongoing police ombudsman probe was the best way to address any outstanding issues.

But Mr Gallagher’s London-based senior counsel today contended that the state is under a duty to investigate.

Central to the case are obligations contained within the Human Rights Act which came into force in 2000 - two years on from the Omagh bombing.

They include duties of prevention and investigation as part of Article 2 requirement to protect life.

Ashley Underwood QC contended that much of the investigative material only emerged after the Act was brought in.

He set out a series of claims from intelligence sources that they told of terrorist plans in the run-up to the attack.

“There is an arguable case that the state could and should have prevented the atrocity at Omagh,” Mr Underwood said.

“That then, at least in principle, gives rise to an Article 2 investigative duty.

“That duty extends to investigating whether the state could, in fact, have stopped the murders.”

Mr Justice Treacy was told that all investigations into Omagh so far have not even cumulatively addressed the question of whether it could have been prevented.

In detailed submissions Mr Underwood went through case law to back his argument.

He also examined claims made by a number of agents who infiltrated republican ranks, including Kevin Fulton and American spy David Rupert.

At one stage he contended there was a real prospect that tracking equipment had been placed in the bomb car.

The court also heard claims that the terrorists behind a series of attacks leading up to Omagh were being monitored.

Seeking leave to advance to a full judicial review hearing, Mr Underwood concluded that if an Article 2 obligation existed then the Secretary of State had got it wrong.

Reserving judgment on the application, Mr Justice Treacy said he wanted to review the submissions.

Outside court Mr Gallagher explained his reasons for the legal challenge.

Accompanied by Stanley McCombe, whose wife Ann died in the bombing, he said: “We believe Omagh was a preventable atrocity and we want to know why those responsible were not brought before the courts and properly dealt with.

“Hopefully this is the start of a truth recovery process.”