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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Omagh programme was 'media justice'
A man widowed in the Omagh bombing has criticised the BBC for transmitting a programme which named four people suspected of involvement in the atrocity.
Lawrence Rush, whose wife Elizabeth died in the explosion, was behind a legal move to block the transmission of the BBC Panorama programme on Monday night.
Twenty-nine people died and more than 200 were injured when a car bomb, left by the dissident republican Real IRA, exploded in the County Tyrone town on 15 August 1998.
Mr Rush hit out at what he called a "cheap, cheap programme" which, he claimed, had now compromised any future court action.
"This is media justice, we can't allow this to happen," he said.
"I'm disappointed and disgusted by the BBC's programme makers who proceeded to see justice, as they see it, done. The proper place for justice is a courtroom and not a TV screen."
He referred to comments made by coroner John Leckey at the opening of the inquest into the bombing, who warned police and witnesses not to name anyone suspected of involvement.
"The point is, he said, that in doing so these people would walk free. To me that was a very, very clear message.
"What are we doing to do? Are we going to tolerate this? Are we going to let these people away? This is what we're doing.
"They cannot be tried in any court of law because their case has been prejudiced."
The Conservative Party's Northern Ireland spokesman Andrew McKay earlier accused the BBC of "irresponsibility".
He said the programme makers had "reduced greatly" the chances of a successful conviction.
"Whilst I have great sympathy with the victims and their relatives who want these evil terrorists brought to justice, I deprecate journalists with large egos who self-indulgently make such programmes knowing full well that the chances of a successful conviction will be much reduced by them naming the terrorists.
"Our sole interest is having these evil terrorists put behind bars for a very long time and I regret to say that the Panorama programme will have reduced that possibility."
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissioner Brice Dickson, also claimed the programme amounted to "trial by media".
The commission was behind a second legal attempt to block the programme's transmission.
Mr Dickson said: "The Human Rights Commission is not saying that there shouldn't be television programmes about criminal matters. It's right that these matters should be highlighted.
"Where we draw the line is where TV programmes specify particular individuals as being guilty or as being suspected of serious offences without giving them the chance to answer those charges and without allowing the process to go to the courts."
Both Irish Premier Bertie Ahern and First Minister David Trimble have condemned the programme.
But the broadcast has been welcomed by relatives of some of the other victims.
Stanley McCombe, who lost his wife Ann in the blast said: "If the pressure is kept on these people, their consciences will get to them. They will break and say: 'I can't live with this.'
"When we watched the programme it gave us an idea how many people were involved in this. Secrets can't be kept forever, they have kept them well enough for two years."
Michael Gallagher, who lost his son, Aidan, in the bomb said the programme would have been worthwhile, if it helped put the bombers "behind bars."
"It might take something as drastic as what we have seen to try to move things forward, to remind people that what happened in Omagh is still capable of happening in other towns," he said.
Democratic Unionist Party assembly member Oliver Gibson, whose niece Esther was killed in the atrocity, also expressed support for the broadcast.
He said the political will was not there to pursue those responsible for the bombing, despite what he called a "very thorough" police investigation.
"This has involved investigators in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and United States. They know who stole the car which ferried the bomb, who adjusted the suspension to mask the device, who put the bomb together," he said.
He said he hoped the broadcast of the Panorama programme would force politicians to pursue those who had carried out the "largest act of mass murder in the UK".
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