A HIGH Court judge has this morning found that there was a “real prospect” the 1998 Omagh bomb could have been prevented.
Mr Justice Horner has recommended that investigations compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are carried out on both sides of the border into the Real IRA atrocity, which killed 31 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injured hundreds more.
Some of the victims’ relatives had campaigned for years for a full public inquiry into the circumstances around the bombing, the worst single atrocity of the Troubles, but in 2013 the British government refused to meet their demands.
The campaigners, led by Michael Gallagher, who lost his 21-year-old son Aiden in the attack, subsequently launched a legal action seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision.
While the case ended two years ago, Mr Justice Horner only delivered his judgement at the High Court in Belfast this morning.
“I am satisfied that certain grounds, when considered separately or together, give rise to plausible allegations that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing,” Mr Justice Horner said.
“These grounds involve… the consideration of terrorist activity on both sides of the border by prominent dissident terrorist republicans leading up to the Omagh bomb.
“I am therefore satisfied that the threshold under Article 2 ECHR, to require the investigation of those allegations, has been reached.
“Any investigation will necessarily involve the scrutiny of both open and closed material obtained on both sides of the border.
“It is not within my power to order any type of investigation to take place in the Republic of Ireland, but there is a real advantage in an Article 2 compliant investigation proceeding in the Republic of Ireland, simultaneously with one in Northern Ireland.
“Any investigation will have to look specifically at the issue of whether a more proactive campaign of disruption, especially if co-ordinated North and South of the border, had a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing, and whether, without the benefit of hindsight, the potential advantages of taking a much more aggressive approach towards the suspected terrorists outweighed the potential disadvantages inherent in such an approach.”
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden as killed in the blast in 1998, said it was now up to the British and Irish government to progress the investigation.
Speaking shortly after the judge’s ruling was read to a small group of the victims’ families, Michael said the significance of the decision had not yet sunk in.
“I don’t think the enormity of this has sunk in, that a senior High Court judge has said there are serious concerns and issues around preventability.”
“We would call on the government not to delay the suffering that we have already went through over the past 23 years, and not to go into an appeal process to work with the families and move forward.”
“We are not the terrorists here, we actually supported the government, supported the police and supported the intelligence services. What was a pleasant surprise to hear this morning was that the judge talked about the Irish government and a cross-border inquiry.”
“We would ask both governments to come together and work to make that happen.”