UK government set to announce decision on Omagh bomb inquiry

The Real IRA bomb killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.
UK government set to announce decision on Omagh bomb inquiry

By David Young, PA

The UK government is expected to announce on Thursday whether it will order a public inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bomb.

While the Northern Ireland Office has not yet confirmed the move, it is understood bereaved relatives have been advised that Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is set to make a statement in the UK House of Commons.

The dissident republican bomb exploded in the Co Tyrone town on August 15th, 1998 killing 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. Hundreds more were injured.

In 2021, a British High Court judge recommended that the UK government should carry out a human rights-compliant investigation into alleged security failings in the lead-up to the attack.

Omagh bombing
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (centre) in Omagh talking to Stanley McCombe (right) and Michael Gallagher, who both lost loved ones in the bombing (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Justice Horner found that it was potentially plausible the attack could have been prevented.

His ruling came after a legal challenge by a bereaved family member against the UK government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry.

The judge also recommended that the Irish Government establish its own investigation.

Mr Heaton-Harris had pledged to announce the UK government’s response to the judgment early in the new year.

The Secretary of State travelled to Omagh in December to meet some of the bereaved families and visit the site of the bombing and a nearby memorial garden.

In his 2021 judgment, Justice Horner directed that a fresh investigation should take place into the Real IRA atrocity.

He said any probe should examine the failure to act on an informer tip-off or use intelligence and surveillance evidence about previous terror attacks.

The judge said a new investigation should also examine whether a politically motivated “de-escalation” of the security approach to dissident republicans in the months before the 1998 attack resulted in crucial intelligence not being acted upon.

Mr Justice Horner said he was not going to order specifically that the UK probe into the Omagh bomb takes the form of a public inquiry, explaining he did not want to be “prescriptive” about the methodology.

While having no jurisdiction to order the Irish Government to act on the matter, the judge also urged authorities there to establish their own probe in light of his findings.

In recent weeks the Northern Ireland Office has insisted it has been continuing to work on “next steps” following Justice Horner’s judgment.

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