Northern Ireland news

High Court hears British government expected to decide next month on whether to set up new Omagh bombing atrocity investigation

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the Omagh bombing, is campaigning for a public inquiry into the atrocity

The British government is to decide next month if a new investigation into the Omagh bombing will take place.

Counsel for Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris set out the timeline during an ongoing legal battle by one of those bereaved in the Real IRA attack.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden was killed in the August 1998 blast, is campaigning for a public inquiry into the atrocity.

Last year, a judge recommended fresh investigations on both sides of the border, identifying a legal duty under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Since then, however, Mr Gallagher has returned to court to challenge alleged government delays and failures to act on those findings.

At a review, heading counsel for the secretary of state indicated a final decision has been put back due to the "political uncertainty in London" over the summer.

Paul McLaughlin KC said: "There is a revised decision-making timetable which anticipates the decision of the Secretary of State will be taken by November 14 at the latest.

"The proposed revised litigation timetable is premised upon that date being held."

Listing the case for a further review at the end of November, Lord Justice Horner said there would be "finality" by that stage.

He told Mr Gallagher's lawyer: "It will allow you to know what the position is, and your client, more importantly."

No-one has ever been held criminally responsible for the attack which inflicted the greatest single loss of life during the Troubles.

Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in the outrage, and hundreds more injured.

Proceedings centred on claims that a range of intelligence from British security agents, MI5 and RUC officers could have been drawn together to foil the car bomb plot.

Lord Justice Horner has already ruled that the bombing could arguably have been thwarted if police had received all available intelligence.

He held that full sharing of surveillance and mobile phone tracking evidence may have disrupted dissident republicans behind other attacks in the months leading to the strike on Omagh.

Identifying a potential failure in policy at the time around a de-escalation of security "impaired by political thinking", the judge said

it was also arguable that a tip-off from an undercover British agent could have contributed to the chances of averting the explosion.

No conclusive determination was reached that the atrocity could have been avoided.

But in last year's judgment, he stated: "I am satisfied that (these) grounds, when considered separately or together, give rise to plausible arguments that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing."

Mr Gallagher is now waiting for the British government to set out its position before taking any further legal steps.

Lord Justice Horner added: "Depending on the outcome of the secretary of state's deliberations, we will put in place those directions."

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