Omagh Civil Case - Justice or Stitch-Up?

by I. Greene

Reviewing the ongoing Omagh civil case saga, one is left with an abiding sense of uneasiness at the immense inequality being applied to one of the defendants, Michael McKevitt.

Not only are obstacles being placed in Michael McKevitt’s path depriving him of the right to defend himself in the Omagh Civil action, but a clear stitch-up is emerging

In September 2003 the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell told the Omagh Victims Support group that both sides in the civil case should be treated equally. To date, despite these assertions, the reality is quite the opposite. Reviewing the ongoing Omagh case saga, one is left with an abiding sense of uneasiness at the immense inequality being applied to one of the defendants, Michael McKevitt.

Something is drastically wrong in a court of law where:

* the plaintiffs’ are provided with finance by the British Government, in addition to the provision of legal aid by the court to fight their case. Yet Michael has had to fight at every juncture for legal aid, which until recently was denied, although now is severely restricted,.

* A single judge is hearing a very complex case without of a jury.

* A discredited police force refuses to cooperate in the proceedings.

* A second police force refuses to be cross-examined in open court.

* A senior police officer is accused of stealing police files and is not queried by the judge.

* A shadowy intelligence organisation (MI5) refuses to cooperate and withholds relevant information.

* A paid informant refuses to appear in court in fear of cross-examination.

One could be forgiven for thinking this is a court case in Zimbabwe, however it’s not. These are the facts that makeup the Omagh civil case, due to be heard next year in the High Court in Belfast. Many observers believe that the creditability of this inconceivable case of law has now dwindled to an all time low. The argument for it to discontinue and be replaced by an independent public inquiry is gaining much credence.

On Sunday 29th July a Sunday Times article by John Mooney reported that the Gardai will not participate in the civil case. According to Mooney’s report the Garda say “it may jeopardise continuing investigations into the attack in Omagh...” This story was disingenuous and nothing more than propaganda exercise in the lead up to the anniversary of the Omagh tragedy. Any observer will note the consistency by Mooney around this time of year when he pens similar sensationalist type articles on the Omagh bomb attack. Within days of Mooney’s report, a furious Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy denied the content of the article. Conroy is adamant that the Gardai will assist the Omagh families as previously agreed, but didn’t elaborate on what was agreed or how they will assist the families.

The plaintiffs’ in the case previously secured an agreement from the Garda authorities that their members would give evidence to a Commission but without cross-examination. It was also agreed that the Commission hearing would take place in Dublin and would be chaired by Mr Justice Morgan from Belfast.

In the civil case to date the Belfast High Court under Mr Justice Morgan has consistently denied Michael McKevitt legal aid to defend himself even though no creditable evidence has been produced against him. The ongoing denial of legal aid is an attempt by the British authorities to prosecute McKevitt and others using a lower standard of proof [on balance of probabilities] than would be necessary in criminal proceedings [beyond reasonable doubt]. The British authorities have consistently attempted to ensure that Mr McKevitt in particular, would not be legally represented in the civil case, thereby securing a favourable verdict against him by stealth. However, McKevitt has continually confronted the British authorities demanding fairness, equality of arms and a right to be heard. Recently through his persistence, the British authorities were forced to grant him legal aid but only on a limited basis.

As presently constituted, the Omagh civil case has no opposition. The defendants in the case have consistently been denied equality, fairness and an opportunity to put forward a defence. The informant David Rupert was prepared to give direct evidence but was not prepared to face cross-examination.

The Gardai also agreed to give direct evidence but on condition that there would be no cross-examination of their members. MI5 have made it clear that they will not participate in the civil case. The PSNI have also made it known that they will not partake in the case either. It is difficult to understand why there is such a reluctance by those bodies to face cross-examination. Included in any normal court of law, we have a defence and a cross-examination but in the Omagh civil case, we have neither. Surely this is unprecedented in a court of law.

The civil case has been misdirected from the outset and important outstanding questions remain unanswered. Many now believe that the civil case was a deflection to redirect the blame away from the police mishandling of the investigation. The withholding of information by MI5 of an imminent attack on the town was never resolved. The missing police files on the investigation have never been recovered or any explanation forthcoming. The endless list of contentious issues surrounding the Omagh investigation will never be resolved through the civil case. Now it is 9 years on from the bomb attack and the families are no nearer the truth than they were on the first day. The Omagh victims support group say that they have spent more than $2 million to date and they say that they have hit a wall. The majority of the victims’ families now concede that the civil case will never achieve closure and most now feel that they were misdirected from the outset.

Any of the parties interested in securing justice and closure in this case may be better advised redirecting all their energies into securing an independent public investigation into the Omagh tragedy. Perhaps through a proper transparent investigation they will learn the truth on the events surrounding the bomb attack in Omagh town that affected so many families. To continue with the civil case is a futile exercise and one, which can never achieve truth or closure.

The financing of the case by the British authorities ensured that they controlled and directed everything in Omagh civil case. As far as they were concerned it was never designed to achieve anything other than a cover-up and to date the only thing that it has achieved is a cover-up! A further Sunday Times article by Mooney appeared on Sunday 5th of August more or less repeating the claims contained in his previous article. However, it contained a number of interesting if not disturbing revelations that raises the question once again about the motives behind the civil action.

After the writs were served, according to Mooney, “What happened next took everyone by surprise. McKevitt lodged papers with the High Court in Belfast declaring his intention to defend himself. It was generally assumed that none of the defendants would offer a defence, thus affording the Omagh relatives the opportunity to register a judgment for #14m in damages. McKevitt’s decision to fight changed the situation.” Mooney with an air of complaint states: “From his prison cell, McKevitt continued to fight. He successfully appealed the British government’s decision to give the families legal aid... In 2005 the families were again granted free legal aid - but so were the defendants.” If, as is claimed by the plaintiffs time and again, that justice is their motivation, why then deny the defendants the right to defend themselves?

Mooney acknowledges that “The case against McKevitt is particularly difficult one to prove. Although he set up the Real IRA, he did not involve himself in any attacks. Neither did he hold the position of chief of staff.” This is indeed a new revelation, given the fact that Michael McKevitt was convicted on the charge of Directing. It appears Mooney has information that was not made available to McKevitt’s defence.

Not only are obstacles being placed in Michael McKevitt’s path depriving him of the right to defend himself in the Omagh Civil action, but a clear stitch-up is emerging.

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