Real IRA chief found liable for Omagh bombing

Michael McKevitt, the head of dissident republican group the Real IRA, and three accomplices were convicted of plotting the 1998 Omagh bombing in a landmark Belfast civil court ruling. Twenty-nine people were killed in the attack.


AFP - The head of the hardline Real IRA was found liable Monday with three other men for Northern Ireland's 1998 Omagh bombing in a landmark Belfast civil court ruling on a case brought by victims' families.

Twenty-nine people, including Spanish tourists visiting the town, were killed in the bombing, the worst atrocity in three decades of violence which wracked the British province.

No-one has been convicted in a criminal court over the attack, but victims' relatives launched a civil legal action against five men they accuse of plotting the bombing, including Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt.

The Real IRA is a splinter group from the Irish Republican Army (IRA), once the main Catholic militant organisation opposed to British rule in the province.

Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly were also found liable for the August 1998 bombing. A fifth man, Seamus McKenna, was cleared.

Twelve of the victims' relatives, who filed their civil action in April 2008 after a criminal case failed to find anyone guilty, sued the alleged bombers for up to 14 million pounds (22 million dollars, 16 million euros).

Judge Declan Morgan, who awarded the plaintiffs more than 1.6 million pounds, said McKevitt was heavily involved in procuring explosives for the Real IRA.

"He held and has always held a significant leadership role in the Real IRA," said the judge.

Stanley McCombe, whose wife died in the attack, welcomed the ruling.

"It is a result we hoped for but didn't expect. We didn't build our hopes up because we've been let down so many times before. But a 5-1 win is a victory in anyone's eyes," he said.

But he added: "It was never about money. We can stand and say that these guys are responsible for Omagh, that's what we wanted."

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan died, said: "Eight years has just come to an end all of a sudden. It is a result better than we could ever have imagined."

"We have sent out an important message to terrorists and their victims around the world -- you now have a way of challenging those who've murdered your loved ones.

"I think it is a tremendous moral victory for the families."

Under British law, the standard of proof needed to find someone responsible in a civil case -- the balance of probabilities -- is lower than for a criminal conviction, which requires proof beyond reasonable doubt.

The Omagh bombing failed to derail the Good Friday peace accord signed in April 1998, which ended most of the violence in Northern Ireland's three-decade long Troubles between Catholics and Protestants which killed at least 3,500 people.

Devolved self-rule in the British province resumed in 2007 after a landmark accord between the Protestant Democratic Unionists (DUP) and the Catholic Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA.

But fears of a return to violence were fueled by the killings of two British soldiers and a policeman in March. The soldiers' murders were claimed by the Real IRA while the policeman's death was claimed by another republican splinter group, Continuity IRA.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning