Northern Ireland news

June date for court challenge to refusal to hold public inquiry into Omagh bombing

Police and firefighters examine the aftermath of the 1998 Omagh bombing. Picture by Paul McErlane/PA Wire.

A legal challenge to the British government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into the Omagh bomb atrocity will be heard in June.

Amid continued concerns over progress in a wider catalogue of legacy litigation, Mr Justice McCloskey set aside three days to hear the case being mounted by the father of one of those killed in the August 1998 Real IRA attack.

He described a plan where proceedings would "limp" towards preliminary battles over disclosure as wholly unacceptable.

Referring to a judicial initiative aimed at speeding up legacy challenges, he said: "The court cannot permit this to be undermined and dismantled by the kind of timetabling proposal put forward in the present case."

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins killed in Omagh, is taking High Court action over former Secretary of State Theresa Villiers' refusal to order a public inquiry in 2013.

The case centres on claims that a range of intelligence from British security agents, MI5 and RUC officers could have been drawn together to prevent the outrage.

Ms Villiers decided instead that a probe by Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire was the best way to address any outstanding issues surrounding the atrocity.

In October 2014 Dr Maguire published a report where he found RUC Special Branch withheld some intelligence information from detectives.

No-one has ever been convicted of carrying out the attack.

Proceedings have been caught up in arguments over holding partially closed hearings amid fears the disclosure of sensitive material could damage national security.

Mr Justice McCloskey is overseeing more than 40 judicial reviews into incidents from the past.

He pointed out that proceedings issued by Mr Gallagher are now four years old.

"One of the most telling considerations is that the court has not been addressed, orally or in writing, by any party or any other agency concerning the timetabling of the hearing of the substantive judicial review application," he said.

"This neglect is startling, given the circumstances highlighted above."

Listing the substantive hearing for three days in June, he added about the time allocation: "Hopefully an over-estimate."

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