Omagh civil case begins
Omagh civil case begins

The Omagh bomb civil action must be public, the judge said during legal discussion this week at the start of the trial.

“This is a public trial and I need to make sure it doesn’t turn into a private trial,” said Justice Morgan to the High Court in Belfast.

The men named in the action are: Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Seamus McKenna, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly.

All have denied responsibility and four have instructed lawyers to represent their interests. Mr Campbell, who is currently serving a sentence for ‘Real IRA’ membership, is understood to be ignoring the proceedings.

The bomb, blamed on the ‘Real IRA’, exploded with the loss of 29 lives in the commercial centre of Omagh in August, 1998 after coded warnings failed to clear the area around the device. A ‘Real IRA’ ceasefire was immediately declared following the tragedy. It later emerged that the RUC police had been forewarned of the attack by one or more informers working inside the republican group.

The civil action follows the failure of non-jury criminal courts to secure a conviction. Colm Murphy’s conviction in 2001 was overturned on appeal in 2005, while fellow Armagh man Sean Hoey was cleared earlier this year after the judge in the case accused the RUC/PSNI of deception.

Relatives of the victims are looking for exemplary damages as well as both compensatory and aggravated damages, “to punish the defendants for their anti-social behaviour towards the victims”, according to their legal counsel Lord Brennan.

He said that as no one had been or was likely to be successfully prosecuted, a decision on exemplary damages would not impinge upon a criminal case.

He said the case was a matter of the “utmost gravity” and should be on the public record. The case is expected to take some eight weeks to be completed.

The case is being run according to the rules of a civil trial, as was repeatedly mentioned. There are likely to be numerous legal challenges relating to the admissibility of evidence.

An early objection came from one of the counsel for the defendants to the listing of the men’s previous convictions, and e-mails from FBI double agent David Rupert, that would be submitted as evidence.

He read passages from a number of e-mails, describing alleged meetings between Rupert and one of the defendants, Michael McKevitt. Mr McKevitt is currently serving a sentence on charges of being a leader of the ‘Real IRA’. Rupert, who has received millions of dollars in compensation for his evidence at McKevitt’s trial, will not be giving evidence.

Testimony began with graphic accounts of the devastating outcome of the blast.

Statements were read from some of those who saw the vehicle containing the bomb as it was driven in by two men. A female witness described the pair as “looking like soldiers”, with one smiling and appearing relaxed.

Four former RUC policemen gave evidence concerning RUC conduct in Omagh on the day of the bombing following receipt of the bomb warnings. One policeman told the court of seeing those fleeing from the bomb site and of being told by one person that the RUC “drove us into the bomb”.

The case continues on Monday.

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