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Monday, 31 July, 2000, 01:25 GMT 02:25 UK
Preparation starts for Omagh inquest
Omagh bombing
The bombing was single worst atrocity in Troubles
Memories of the horrific Real IRA Omagh bombing will be recalled when construction on a venue for the inquest starts on Monday.

The site, at the County Tyrone town's leisure centre, will be used for preliminary hearings and the full inquest into the deaths of 29 people, which is due to start on 6 September and expected to continue for four weeks.

The Greater Belfast Coroner, John Leckey, will preside over the inquest.

A makeshift courtroom, and an area for families and solicitors are to be built.

Hundreds were injured in the bombing by the dissident republican group, Real IRA, on a busy shopping day, just four months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement peace accord.

Two baby girls, five other children, 14 women and five men were among the victims of the worst single atrocity in the history of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

Omagh Leisure Centre was used as an emergency incident centre in the immediate aftermath of the blast where families waited to hear news on 15 August 1998.

US President Clinton met some of the more than 200 people injured in the bombing and bereaved families at the leisure centre when he visited Omagh.

Legal aid move

Last week relatives of the people killed in the bombing were told that special provision has been made to allow them to apply for Legal Aid to help fund their representation at the inquest.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, decided the circumstances surrounding the explosion were so exceptional he would offer public funding to ensure the relatives of the victims could secure legal representation.

At present, legal aid is not provided for coroner's court proceedings in Northern Ireland.

In the latest move, it will only be available to those who would normally qualify for civil legal aid in civil proceedings.

The Lord Chancellor is to publish consultation proposals in the autumn setting out the criteria for judging applications for the assistance.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among those killed in Omagh, has welcomed the announcement but said all the families should be entitled to legal aid.

More than 2,000 people have been interviewed and over 3,000 statements taken by police investigating the bombing.

Nearly 80 suspects have been questioned on both sides of the border.

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