New delay in battle to force Omagh bomb inquiry

A long-delayed legal challenge to the government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into the Omagh bombing has been put back to next year.

Wednesday, 4th July 2018, 8:00 am
Updated Monday, 16th July 2018, 5:04 pm
Omagh campaigners Michael Gallagher (left) and Stanley McCombe

A case brought by the father of a young man killed in the Real IRA atrocity was due to be heard this week at the High Court in Belfast.

But amid issues of national security raised in a closed session, proceedings were adjourned to February 2019.

Mrs Justice Keegan told victims’ relatives: “It’s frustrating ... but this is a very important case and it’s important to get it right for everybody’s sake.”

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Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among 29 people murdered in the August 1998 attack, is taking legal action over former Northern Ireland secretary of state Theresa Villiers’ refusal to order a public inquiry.

The case centres on claims that a range of intelligence from British security agents, MI5 and RUC officers could have been drawn together to prevent the bombing.

Mr Gallagher launched his legal action after Ms Villiers rejected calls for a public investigation back in September 2013.

She decided instead that a probe by Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire was the best way to address any outstanding issues surrounding the outrage.

In October 2014 Dr Maguire published a report where he found RUC Special Branch withheld some intelligence information from detectives hunting the bombers.

No one has ever been convicted of carrying out the attack.

Judicial review proceedings were caught up in arguments over holding partially closed hearings amid fears the disclosure of sensitive material could damage national security.

Following a series of previous adjournments, the judge had listed the case for full hearing this week – a month short of the 20th anniversary of the bombing.

It was expected that emails between FBI spy David Rupert, who infiltrated the Real IRA, and his handlers, would feature in the challenge.

However, legal discussions held behind closed doors led to the further postponement.

Mr Gallagher and fellow campaigner Stanley McCombe, who lost his wife Ann in the blast, were then allowed into court for confirmation of the outcome.

“Now I have seen what the reasoning is on closed session, I’m satisfied that I have to take this course,” the judge stressed.

“I’m disappointed myself that I can’t get on with it this week, but I will be keeping a close eye on it.”

Outside court Mr McCombe gave a positive reaction.

“I’m happy with the outcome, we know exactly when it is taking place and the judge is taking a keen interest in it.

“This is going to be a landmark case.”