Page last updated at 17:43 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Agent barred from Omagh bomb case

Omagh bombing scene
Twenty-nine people were killed in the Omagh bombing

A High Court judge has reversed his decision to allow an IRA murderer turned-informer to give evidence at the Omagh bomb civil action.

Sean O'Callaghan was to testify against jailed dissident republican leader Michael McKevitt, one of five men being sued over the 1998 attack.

Mr Justice Morgan ruled he was no longer prepared to allow the witness.

He described O'Callaghan as a "practised deceiver" who was at one stage being paid by the plaintiffs.

The judge's decision to stop O'Callaghan from going into the witness box came as lawyers for victims' relatives closed their case after 10 months of evidence.

"Questions arise on the issue of credibility. Is Mr O'Callaghan dropping Mr McKevitt in it... and to what extent can his evidence be judged reliable in relation to that?" the judge asked.

Mr McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Seamus McKenna, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly all deny responsibility for the Omagh bombing, which claimed 29 lives.

Mr Justice Morgan decided in December that the former agent, who said he was once in charge of the Provisional IRA's southern command, should be allowed to give evidence on this and separate claims that he instructed his security officer to tell McKevitt to stop taking vehicles from the organisation's car pool without permission.

Since then, however, difficulties have arisen in locating debriefing notes and files held on O'Callaghan by his police handlers on both sides of the Irish border.

Defence

Boxes containing 57 sets of interview notes requested by McKevitt's lawyers as part of an exploration of his credibility were eventually found at a police station in Omagh.

Most of the material related to O'Callaghan's involvement in the murders of special branch detective Peter Flanagan and soldier Eva Martin during the 1970s for which he received two life sentences before being released early under Royal Prerogative.

But issues around possible applications for Public Interest Immunity were raised by police lawyers, while other material being sought remained outstanding.

Lord Brennan QC, for the Omagh families, urged the judge to allow the witness to be called.

The barrister claimed the chronology in attempts to obtain the documents had been "abysmal".

He said it had taken the Police Service of Northern Ireland two months to produce a moderate amount of material, while there was still no response from the Irish police.

The plaintiffs closed their case by showing footage of Mr McKevitt attending the funeral of Real IRA man Ronan McLoughlin in May 1998.

The 28-year-old Dubliner, was shot dead by Irish police during an attempted raid on a security van in County Wicklow.

In footage played in court McKevitt can be seen in a baseball cap and upturned collar while a graveyard oration describes McLoughlin as a "volunteer of Oglaigh na hEireann (the IRA) on active service carrying out instructions for his military leaders".

Lawyers for McKevitt are now expected to open their defence against allegations made by the Omagh families.

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15 Feb 08 |  Northern Ireland
The 29 victims of the Omagh bomb
20 Dec 07 |  Northern Ireland


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