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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Omagh relatives fight for truth
Twenty-nine people died in Omagh bombing in August 1998
Twenty-nine people died in Omagh bombing in August 1998

The families of the Omagh bombing victims are a step closer to taking legal action against suspects after the UK Government provided 800,000 to their legal fund.

They hope to bring to justice people they believe were responsible for Northern Ireland's worst atrocity since violence began 30 years ago.

Twenty nine people were killed, including a woman pregnant with twins, and more than 200 injured when a 500lb car bomb exploded in the County Tyrone town on a Saturday afternoon in mid-August, 1998.

International and national condemnation quickly followed from political and religious leaders, with Prime Minister Tony Blair immediately pledging to take any measures necessary to bring the bombers to justice.

In a joint effort, police chiefs and government ministers from Britain and the Republic of Ireland launched tough security measures in the search for the bombers.

Panorama revelations

By October 2000, BBC's Panorama programme 'Who Bombed Omagh?' revealed that phone calls between two mobile phones on the day of the bombing were crucial to the police case.

Dissident republican Colm Murphy was asked by the programme why he had given his phone, and one belonging to an employee, to another man the day before the bombing.

While Murphy said he had not given them to anyone, police had, however, built up a detailed log of calls made to and from the phones in the Omagh area around the time of the explosion.

Murphy was later to become the only person convicted in relation to the bombing.

In January 2002 he was found guilty at Dublin's Special Criminal Court of plotting to cause the bombing and sentenced to 14 years in jail.

It was a key part of the prosecution's case that Murphy knew the phones were to be used for illegal activity.

August 1998 was our 11 September
Bob Geldof

However, before the successful conviction in the Republic of Ireland, a police investigation north of the border had been the subject of an inquiry.

It followed speculation that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had intelligence before the explosion and made mistakes in its subsequent investigation of the atrocity.

A damning report by Nuala O'Loan, the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, released in December 2001, accused top ranking police of failing the 29 people killed and their families.

She said senior members of the RUC, now the Police Service of Northern Ireland, were defensive and uncooperative.

Among the strong criticism, the report found that police had two prior warnings - on 4 and 12 August 1998 - about plans to attack Omagh.

It also said that about two months after the attack substantial resources were removed from the investigation and staff cut back, and that the judgement and leadership of the chief constable and assistant chief constable was "seriously flawed".

The police said the ombudsman's report contained serious errors.

Civil case

Amid concerns about the police investigation, which continues, and a feeling that the British and Irish governments had failed to catch the killers, the families of victims pursued their own legal case.

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.

By July 2002 a fundraising campaign had succeeded in raising 1m to lodge the legal action.

The campaign had such high profile supporters as US President George Bush and Bob Geldof, who said: "August 1998 was our 11 September."

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson has given 10,000 to the fund which families hope will pay for a private prosecution of the dissident republicans suspected of planting the bomb.

Announcing the latest contribution to the legal fund, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said the case was an "exceptional one".

"The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and beyond want to see the families bring it to court."



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