Omagh bomb prosecution 'was possible with better investigation'

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Image caption, Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were killed in the 1998 attack

A prosecution over the Omagh bombing could have happened if there had been a better police investigation, a former police ombudsman has said.

Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were killed in the Real IRA attack in 1998.

Relatives are to sue Northern Ireland's police chief for failings they believe allowed the killers to escape justice.

A writ against the chief constable looks at events after the bomb and why no-one has been convicted of murder.

In 2001, the then police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan published a report into the Omagh bombing that was highly critical of the police.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster on Friday, she said: "I think there's a distinct possibility that better police investigation, informed by intelligence, might have led to a prosecution and even a conviction.

Image source, Pacemaker

"When I looked at the intelligence picture behind Omagh and then looked at how much had been given to the investigators, I found that only about a fifth of the intelligence which was available had been handed over.

"You have to bear in mind that the senior investigating officer didn't get specific video footage and things that he'd asked for, so there was a huge amount that just was not done in the Omagh investigation.

"I think some of the officers involved tried really hard, it [the investigation] just could not achieve what it was set up to achieve and I think it's terribly cruel that this had to go on."

Omagh bomb timeline

She added: "I have seen evidence of decisions made in RUC Special Branch which are inexplicable

"I have seen ongoing failure to deliver, if you like, right from the beginning, to deliver the resources and to deliver the commitment and to enable the truth to be told."

The chief constable of the Police Service of NI at the time of Mrs O'Loan's 2001 report described her findings as neither a "fair, thorough or rigorous investigation".

"I consider it to be a report of an erroneous conclusion reached in advance and then a desperate attempt to find anything that might happen to fit in with that, and a determination to exclude anything which does not fit that erroneous conclusion," Sir Ronnie Flanagan said.

Quest for justice

The families' writ is the latest legal challenge in their two-decade quest for justice.

The PSNI said it "would respond in due course".

The Omagh bombing inflicted the greatest, single loss of life of any terror atrocity in the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son, Aiden, died in the bomb, said they needed answers.

Image caption, In 2009, Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly were found liable for the bombing in a civil trial

Stanley McComb, whose wife, Ann, was killed, said there was "no way" he was giving up.

The relatives have already successfully sued four republicans in a landmark civil trial that found them liable for the bombing.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Police were trying to clear Market Street in Omagh when the bomb exploded

Police ombudsman reports have raised serious concerns about the police investigation.

They said evidential opportunities were missed, that intelligence information was not shared and there were inexplicable delays in arresting suspects

A PSNI spokesman said of the writ: "Once received, we will take time to consider the contents and respond in due course."

The families are also pursuing judicial review proceedings against the government's decision not to hold a public inquiry into the attack.

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