Northern Ireland

Judge says British government must provide written progress on a chair for Omagh bomb inquiry

Omagh bomb campaigner Michael Gallagher
Omagh bomb campaigner Michael Gallagher

Government work towards identifying a chair for a new investigation into the Omagh bombing must be provided in writing in a week’s time, a High Court judge has directed.

Lord Justice Horner set the timeframe for the Northern Ireland Office to give an update on the appointment process and proposals for advancing the planned statutory inquiry.

He told lawyers representing Secretary of State Chris-Heaton Harris: “You need to have your letter in so everybody knows what the situation is.”

A father bereaved in the August 1998 atrocity is taking legal action against the Government over alleged delays in establishing the probe.

Michael Gallagher is challenging the lack of progress since the announcement earlier this year that an inquiry is to be set up. 

His son Aiden was among 29 people killed in the Real IRA car bomb attack on the Co Tyrone town. The victims included a woman pregnant with twins.

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

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In 2021 Lord Justice Horner held that the bombing could arguably have been thwarted if police had received all available material.

At that stage, he recommended fresh probes on both sides of the Irish border, based on a legal duty under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

A further challenge was mounted over alleged delays and failures by the UK Government to act on that ruling.

Proceedings were put on hold after Mr Heaton-Harris announced on February 2 his intention to set up a statutory inquiry to examine if the Omagh bomb could have been prevented.

But Mr Gallagher’s legal team have confirmed their intention to press ahead with the case due to the failure to provide further details or a timeframe.

The judge has been told that the Secretary of State remains committed to establishing an inquiry as soon as possible.

A process is underway to identify a chair, venue and draw up the terms of reference before any further public announcement can be made.

In court on Tuesday counsel for the Secretary of State, Paul McLaughlin KC, indicated that a letter setting out the updated position may be available within days.

With the challenge listed for hearing next month, Mr Gallagher’s barrister confirmed he is still aiming to keep to that date.

Hugh Southey KC said: “If there is the announcement of a chair shortly before the hearing we would welcome that.” 

Adjourning the case for a week, Lord Justice Horner added: “In the letter there should be proposals for the resolution of this matter.”