Northern Ireland

No public inquiry into Omagh bomb says NI Secretary

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Media captionTheresa Villiers: "There wasn't a justification for a further process"

The Northern Ireland Secretary has said she has decided not to hold a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the 1998 Omagh bombing.

Twenty-nine people were murdered in the Real IRA attack.

Theresa Villiers said she did not believe there were sufficient grounds to justify a further inquiry beyond those that have already taken place.

She said "it was not an easy decision and that all views had been carefully considered".

Ms Villiers said she believed that the ongoing investigation by the police ombudsman was the best way to address any outstanding issues relating to the police investigation.

Last month relatives of the victims of the bombing said they were prepared to go to court to force the British and Irish governments to hold a full public inquiry into the bombing.

Reacting to news that there would be no inquiry, Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was murdered in the attack, said: "We can't understand why the government aren't giving us a full public inquiry.

"The reasons that they've indicated we feel are very weak and we will be going straight for a judicial review of that decision.

"We'll be meeting our lawyers tomorrow and we'll plot a way forward, but we'll be moving very quickly for a judicial review of this decision.

"The information we have is voluminous, it clearly indicates that there were opportunities to prevent this bombing and we will put our evidence before the courts and let the judge decide."

A letter telling relatives of the government decision was hand delivered to them on Thursday morning.

'Full truth'

Some of the families of those killed still believe the full truth of the events surrounding the bombing has never been revealed.

Over a year ago they presented a report to the British and Irish governments as part of their campaign for a full public inquiry.

Image caption A letter announcing the decision was hand delivered to Omagh relatives

In August, just a few days before the 15th anniversary of the bombing, they revealed some of that document that they said shows there was substantial intelligence warning that dissident republicans were planning an attack.

However, they believe information was not shared between police forces north and south of the border and intelligence services, including the FBI and MI5.

They said that the attack could have been prevented and the failure to reveal more about what was known had prevented anyone from being criminally convicted of the killings.

However, in her statement, Ms Villiers said: "I believe that the ongoing investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is the best way to address any outstanding issues relating to the police investigation into the Omagh attack.

"The fact remains that the Real IRA carried out the bombing in Omagh on 15 August 1998, murdering 29 people and injuring many more. Responsibility is theirs alone.

"I sincerely hope that the ongoing police investigation will bring to justice those responsible for this brutal crime.

"I have met representatives of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, as have a number of my predecessors as secretary of state. I have offered to meet them again to explain my decision further if they wish."

Ms Villiers said families of the victims were divided on the inquiry issue - some wanted one, but others had told her they would be further distressed. She also said there was still a live police investigation into the atrocity.

She said the issues had been previously "extensively investigated" by 10 previous inquiries, reviews or investigations.

'Gutted and angry'

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Media captionMichael Gallagher, whose son was killed in the bomb, said they would be seeking a judicial review

Stanley McCombe, whose wife Ann was killed in the bombing, said he was gutted and angry about the inquiry decision.

"They've been hiding behind excuses that it would traumatise other families. Does she not understand it traumatises us, because we have been working on this for the last 14 years, we have put this report together, we have gathered a lot of information," Mr McCombe said.

"We have produced a 77-page document which highlights why there should be a public inquiry and if Theresa Villiers can't see that - I honestly just don't know how she came to give the answer that she did."

However, Kevin Skelton who lost his wife Mena in the atrocity, said: "I sat and I discussed this with my family, my children, who were on the street the day the bomb went off and they're the people I have to think of.

"They've went through hell to get their lives back on track and they felt they did not want any more about Omagh, they want to move on with their lives."

He also said any inquiry would have to be cross-border and he could not see the Irish government agreeing to one.

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