High Court judge recommends UK and Irish governments investigate Omagh bomb as there was a 'real prospect' it could have been prevented

A High Court judge in Belfast has recommended the UK Government undertake a human rights compliant investigation into the Omagh bombing, and urged the Irish Government to do likewise, after finding there was a “real prospect” the Real IRA attack in 1998 could have been prevented.

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 11:31 am
The Omagh bomb claimed the lives of 29 people making it the deadliest single incident of the Troubles. (Photo: PA)

Mr Justice Horner told Belfast High Court: “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.

“These grounds involve, inter alia, 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 (European Convention on Human Rights) to require the investigation of those allegations has been reached.”

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Judge Horner said he was not going to order that the probe take the form of a public inquiry, explaining that he did not want to be “prescriptive”.

He also said he did not have the powers to order the authorities in the Irish Republic to act, but he expressed hope the Irish Government would take a decision to order one.

“I am not going to order a public inquiry to look at the arguable grounds of preventability. I do not intend to be prescriptive. However, it is for the government(s) to hold an investigation that is Article 2 compliant and which can receive both open and closed materials.”

The judge added: “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.”

In a brief hearing, Mr Justice Horner only read the conclusion of his judgment to Belfast High Court on Friday.

He explained he was unable to read the full open judgment setting out his reasoning because the person whose job it was to check the document to ensure it did not contain sensitive material was self-isolating with Covid-19.