The Omagh bomb families have finally begun the formal process of extracting £1.6m in damages from four convicted terrorists who have been found liable for the atrocity.
The bomb was the single biggest atrocity of the Troubles, claiming 29 lives, including nine children and a woman pregnant with twins.
In 2009 the judge in the landmark civil trial in Belfast High Court ruled that Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly were all liable for the bombing, ordering them to pay £1.6m damages to 12 relatives.
However, it is only recently become possible for the families to begin direct legal action to enforce payment, after failed prosecutions by the authorities relating to Omagh, and failed attempts by the four men to overturn the High Court ruling, which ended in the European Court of Human Rights in 2016.
Lawyer Matthew Jury, managing partner of McCue & Partners, said the four men have persistently refused to pay the damages.
He said that Mr McKevitt, Mr Campbell and Mr Murphy have now been served with papers saying that they should pay the damages within 14 days.
The papers say if they are insolvent, the High Court will be asked to declare them bankrupt, and efforts will be made to seize their assets.
A similar process has also begun against Mr Daly in Northern Ireland.
The news has emerged in the 20th anniversary week of the bombing on August 15, 1998. A large crowd assembled on Wednesday at the exact spot where the device detonated, and a bell tolled 32 times – once for every life lost (including the unborn twins), and once more for all victims of the Troubles.
In October 2015 Colm Murphy was quizzed at length in Dublin’s High Court about up to 18 properties.
In October 2015 Liam Campbell was quizzed about up to a dozen properties.
Both men declined to answer a range of questions.
Mr Jury said: “From the outset, it appears that the men went to great lengths to hide their assets.
“Given their continued refusal to pay the damages, and after the Omagh families’ Irish legal team’s extensive investigations and cross-examination of them in the High Court in Dublin, the bankruptcy process has been started and all the evidence that has been gathered will be handed over to the Irish state.
“It will now be for the Irish authorities to take all necessary steps to bankrupt them and recover their assets for the purpose of enforcing the families’ hard won judgment.”
Lawyers for the Omagh families in the Republic of Ireland say they have served Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell and Colm Murphy with demand letters, warning that if they do not attempt to pay the damages within 14 days, and if they are insolvent, they will ask the High Court to declare them bankrupt and where possible, to seize assets.
A similar process has begun against Seamus Daly in Northern Ireland.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the atrocity, and who now leads the Omagh Support & Self Help Group, said the families were determined to pursue the men for damages.
“We continue to pursue recovery and are going to pursue these people,” he said.
However, he also suggested that the state should just pay the bereaved relatives the money which they are owed, and then use its own resources to re-coup money from the men liable.
The families have found serious challenges in securing damages from the four men since 2009, he said.
“It can be hugely frustrating for victims. But if we want to show that we are serious about dealing with terrorists then I believe both governments should award the damages to the victims and then pursue perpetrators.
“The governments have much more detailed records about the affairs of the four men and many more man hours available to pursue the case than we have,” he said.
“The Republic of Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau and the UK’s National Crime Agency, if they worked together in civil recovery, would send a strong message to terrorists – ‘we will pursue you on behalf of victims’. It would send shock waves to terrorists everywhere who might consider destroying people’s lives.”
The News Letter has repeatedly contacted lawyers who recently acted for the four men, however no comment has been offered.
All four men found liable for the Omagh bomb have been convicted of terror offences, although none have convictions for the Omagh bombing itself.
In 2003 Michael McKevitt, the alleged founder and leader of the Real IRA, was found guilty of directing terrorism and membership of an illegal organisation.
The Irish government introduced the new offence in response to the Omagh bombing.
Seamus Daly was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in the Republic in 2004 after admitting membership of the Real IRA.
Liam Campbell was jailed in the Republic in 2004, also for membership of the Real IRA.
Colm Murphy served two years in the Republic in 1972 for possession of a gun and ammunition, three years in the Republic in 1976 for firearms offences, and also spent time in jail in the United States in the 1980s for buying automatic weapons for the PIRA.
However, all criminal prosecutions relating directly to the Omagh bomb attack have so far failed.
Colm Murphy was convicted of plotting to cause the Omagh bomb in 2002 but the conviction was cleared in a retrial in 2010.
In 2014 the PSNI charged Seamus Daly with the bombing, but the case against him collapsed in 2016 after a witness contradicted his own previous testimony.
Campbell and McKevitt subsequently failed to overturn the civil ruling finding them liable for the bomb.