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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Cash boost for Omagh legal action
Twenty-nine people died in Omagh bombing in August 1998
Twenty-nine people died in Omagh bombing in August 1998

The Omagh bomb victims' families are to be provided with 800,000 by the government to help take those they accuse of the atrocity to court.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy confirmed on Friday the government has found a way to help relatives raise the 1.5m needed for a civil action.

It is understood to be the first time the government has helped to fund a civil prosecution and a government spokesman said it was because the situation was "totally exceptional".

Twenty-nine people died in August 1998 in the Real IRA bombing of the County Tyrone town, which was the worst single atrocity in 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Mr Murphy said: "I have been working for many months with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Constitutional Affairs to try to find ways of helping the Omagh families with the funding of their legal case.

"While I recognise the legal constraints and complexities, I have always believed that this is an exceptional case and the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and beyond want to see the families bring it to court.

It takes an enormous burden off our shoulders
Michael Gallagher
Father of Omagh victim

"The magnificent scale of the financial donations from the public to date supports that view."

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said: "As far as we're aware it's an unprecedented move.

"The Omagh situation is totally exceptional in every way."

In 2002, solicitors acting on behalf of the Omagh Victims' Civil Action Group served writs on five people suspected of involvement in the bombing, seeking 10m in damages.

The legal documents were given to Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, and Colm Murphy in Portlaoise Jail.

Solicitor Jason McCue visited the border town of Dundalk in the Irish Republic in July 20002 to serve writs on two other people, Seamus Daly and Seamus McKenna.

On Thursday, the Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt, 53, was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty in a landmark trial in the Republic of Ireland of directing terrorism.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan, 21, was killed in the atrocity, said the government's move would help speed up the process of taking those believed to be responsible to court.

Michael McKevitt was found guilty of directing terrorism

"It is fantastic, unbelievable news. I think it will go a long way towards giving the families justice," he said.

"It takes an enormous burden off our shoulders. We have had an uphill struggle and we have raised over 1m through public subscription. Hopefully it will make things a lot easier for us."

The Northern Ireland Secretary said he had also received an "encouraging" briefing from PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kincaid about the police investigation into the Omagh atrocity.

"The investigation is very active with the largest team of detectives working on any single case in Northern Ireland," Mr Murphy said.

"They are working with all their energy towards a criminal prosecution."

In January 2002, father-of-four Colm Murphy became the only person to be convicted of plotting the Omagh bombing.

The Special Criminal Court in Dublin sentenced the Dundalk-based builder and publican to 14 years in jail.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Simpson
"There is widespread support for the legal battle being fought by the victims' families"




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