Nuala O’Loan brings in her own experts to examine the intelligence computers and she finds, on top of Kevin Fulton’s claims, completely new information, unknown to the existing police investigation. She finds that eleven days before Omagh, on 4 August 1998, a police officer received a ten minute telephone call naming the date and the location of the intended bomb. The officer had passed the information to Special Branch. At the very least, the police could have put road blocks on the small number of roads coming into Omagh.
But nothing happened.
And there was a requirement that the District Commander be told of threats to area, and for these to be recorded in a ‘threat book’ in each police station. But this one went missing and was never found.
In total, Nuala O’Loan looked at 300 pieces of intelligence and found that 78% had not been passed onto the investigating officers. The informal ad hoc arrangements where it was assumed that one part of the state apparatus would communicate with the other were found to be completely insufficient.
“Kevin’s information on its own couldn’t have prevented the bombing. In combination with the other intelligence, there is a strong possibility.“
Her released report in December 2001 is a devastating critique of both the RUC, and by inference, its head, Ronnie Flannagan.
“I would not only resign, I would publicly commit suicide if I felt this…to be fair.”
Ronnie Flannagan, before his early retirement in May 2002
In October 2001, Colm Murphy, is put on trial of conspiracy to commit the Omagh bombing as his mobile had been used by the bombers. He’s convicted in January 2002 and sentenced to 14 years in jail for conspiracy to cause an explosion.
And in 2003, Michael McKevitt receives 20 years for organising terrorist activities in Ireland. He is the first person to be convicted of the offence which had been created in response to the Omagh bombing.
But in January 2005, the conviction of Colm Murphy is overturned on appeal. He’s released after it’s revealed that Gardai forged interview notes used in the case. Some call it a technicality but his sentence is quashed altogether.
Next in the dock is Murphy’s nephew, Sean Hoey. Sean Hoey is an unemployed electrician when in he’s arrested and charged with 58 offences. These include five other bombings, four bomb conspiracies and six murder conspiracies. It is one of the biggest trials in Northern Ireland’s history and will be before just a judge, and no jury.
Hoey is said to be connected by DNA found on four timers of failed bombs. But as the Omagh bomb exploded, there is no DNA evidence connection to link Hoey.
And at Belfast Crown Court, in December 2007, every single charge is dropped and Hoey is found not guilty.
It has taken nine years; cost £16m, but in the end, the 38 year old electrician is cleared on all counts relating to Omagh and other terrorist attacks. The judge accuses the police of having a ‘slapdash approach’ to evidence gathering meaning DNA evidence couldn’t be relied on. Evidence was stored in open bags, with loose labels, in a ‘complete mess’ of a room, meaning contamination was possible. And two officers’ claims of wearing protective clothing when gathering evidence are proved false when photos show them otherwise.
On 28 October 2000, families of four children killed in the bombing launch a civil action against the suspects named by BBC Panorama. Suing the suspects seems their only hope. On 15 March 2001, the families of all 29 people killed launch an appeal to raise money for their new civil action against RIRA suspects Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly.
The relatives insist the action is not about the money. But to both deter future terrorist actions and perhaps uncover evidence for use in criminal proceedings. Their chances of success are higher, however, because the burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is lower than that in a criminal one.
“This is the first time anywhere in the world that victims’ families have sued terrorists.“
Michael Gallagher, who lost his only son, Aiden, at Omagh
But in 2001 The Daily Mail (and later the BBC) settle with Colm Murphy and both release statements saying Murphy has the right to be considered and maintain his innocent.
In February 2002 Bob Geldof, the man behind Band Aid and Live Aid, says Omagh was like Britain’s 9/11 and publicly backs the victims campaign to bring the Real IRA suspects to justice. They require £2million to pursue their civil actions.
On 8 June 2009, the civil case concludes. It took the judge three months to sift through the evidence. Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly are found to have been responsible for the bombing. They are ordered to pay £1.6m in damages. It sets a precedent and opens the way for other victims to sue terrorists
On 7 July 2011 the Court of appeal upholds the ruling that holds Michael McKevitt is responsible for Omagh, along with Real IRA figure, Liam Campbell. But the judge also directs a civil retrial of the claims against Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly.
On 20 March 2013 Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly are found liable for the Omagh bombing. The victims' families are awarded £1.6m in damages after Judge Mr Justice Gillen describes the evidence against the men as overwhelming.
"For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing"
Adopted motto of Omagh families