The collapse of the criminal trial against the Omagh bomber Seamus Daly must have caused considerable heartbreak for the families of the victims of the Omagh bomb.
They do at least have the knowledge that they proved Daly was responsible for the atrocity in a civil case. The facts were proven on the balance of probabilities, even if the case did not meet the criminal standard, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
This means that Daly will not face the full sanctions of the criminal justice system, including a long prison sentence, but he cannot credibly deny that he was responsible for the bomb and the families have an order for damages of £1.6 million against him and three others, Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell and Colm Murphy.
There are parallels with the O.J. Simpson case, where the accused successfully defended a criminal prosecution but lost a civil action, which proved he was responsible for murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson. Simpson was afterwards treated as a pariah by many people in society.
It is not evident whether these societal sanctions have been replicated in respect of the Omagh bombers.
In dealing with our past, I suspect there are many instances where guilt can be proven to the civil standard and society’s reaction cannot easily be predicted. Those responsible for terrible crimes may well end up as one of the leaders of our state, not even penalised by the electorate.
Unfortunately, I suggest that this is probably the starkest indication of how our politicians and government intend to deal with the legal issues around the past.
That must be terribly difficult for victims of horrific crimes, like the victims of the Omagh bomb.
The Omagh bomb was heartbreaking for anyone with any empathy for their fellow citizens. The least we can do for its victims and the victims of other atrocities, is to work to ensure that such incidents never happen again, by building a genuinely peaceful, shared society.
Trevor Ringland, Belfast