The High Court in Belfast has allowed the British government to hold a secret hearing in a legal action over the alleged cover-up of the 1998 Real IRA Omagh bombing.
It granted a declaration to enable a closed session after hearing an argument that the disclosure of “sensitive material” could damage “national security”.
The move forms part of a wider challenge to the British government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into the August 1998 attack. British Crown forces are alleged to have monitored the bomb and allowed it to proceed to Omagh town centre and to explode there, killing 29 civilians, despite having advance knowledge and despite receiving telephoned bomb warnings to clear the area.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among 29 people killed, is attempting to have the British refusal to hold a public inquiry judicially reviewed.
The case centres on claims that a range of British agencies, including MI5 and RUC Special Branch, could have prevented the attack. A gap in the information relates to the monitoring of the bomb and scout cars as they crossed the border into Omagh on the day.
Counsel for the British government applied for the right to hold a “closed materials” hearing ahead of the main legal challenge. Delivering judgment on the government’s application, the judge claimed it was in the interests of justice to hold a secret hearing.
“The court is satisfied that the sample of closed material which it has seen contains substantial reference to sensitive material, the disclosure of which would be damaging to the interests of national security,” he said.
The case will now advance to a full hearing in the new year.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the family of Derry man Kieran Doherty (pictured) have said they are “deeply concerned” after the state attempted to hold a preliminary hearing into his death behind closed doors.
Coroner Brian Sherrard ruled the secretive session be allowed after Crown lawyers claimed that to disclose details on documents “posed a risk to life”, before a last-minute intervention by counsel for the next of kin.
In the weeks before his death, Mr Doherty warned MI5 attempted to recruit him as an agent and members of his family have raised concerns that state agents could have played a role in his death. Mr Doherty’s body was found dumped on a border road in Derry on February 24 2010. The 31-year-old had been stripped and bound before he was shot dead in a killing blamed on allegations that Mr Doherty had been growing marijuana.
Doherty family lawyer Paul Pierce said: “We have come here today for a further preliminary inquiry on this matter, to be told moments before this was to commence that the Crown Solicitor’s Office on behalf of the Secretary of State and the Police Service of Northern Ireland wanted to go into closed hearing.
“As we have seen, there were three hours of discussion back and forward, much of which we were not involved in at all, but it was only on the basis of our objections to those closed hearings taking place that the matter has resolved itself today; the normal process for the consideration of documents and redactions will be carried out as it normally is.
“We are deeply concerned about the way in which the state is approaching these cases by attempting to have closed session hearings and exclude the next of kin and their legal representatives.”
Mr Doherty’s uncle, Vincent Coyle, said that all evidence in the inquest should be made public.
“We want a full and thorough disclosure of all information no matter how hard it is for the public or the government to take,” he said. “The Doherty family deserve truth, justice and a way of beginning to heal, as does this entire city.”