Northern Ireland

Omagh bomb: Legal challenge delayed until February 2019

Omagh bomb scene Image copyright PA
Image caption A car bomb exploded in Omagh town centre on 15 August 1998 killing 28 people

A legal challenge to the government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into the Omagh bombing has been pushed back to 2019.

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

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan died in the attack, is taking legal action against former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

The case was due to be heard at the High Court in Belfast.

Proceedings were adjourned to February 2019 after issues of national security were raised in a closed session.

Acknowledging the delay was "frustrating", Mrs Justice Keegan told victims' relatives it is "a very important case, and it's important to get it right for everybody's sake."

Image caption Michael Gallagher's son Aidan died in the Omagh Bomb

The case centres on claims that 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 inquiry 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.

The latest 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.

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

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 in private led to the further postponement.

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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.

Outside court Mr McCombe gave a positive reaction.

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

"This is going to be a landmark case," he added.

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