Writs served on Omagh suspects

LONDON JULY 26. Families of the Omagh bomb victims today crossed a major hurdle in their search for justice when their solicitors served writs on five men suspected to be responsible for the bombing which killed 29 people on August 15, 1998.

The move, hailed as a boost for civil society in its fight against terrorism, came a day after the Omagh Victims Legal Trust announced that it had raised �1.2 millions through voluntary donations to pay the cost of legal action.

The high-profile fundraising campaign was led by the Irish pop star, Bob Geldof, and the donors included the former Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, and the Ulster Unionist Party chief, David Trimble.

The filing of writs is the first step in bringing the suspects to account through civil action after the police failed to charge them in connection with one of the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland.

A Belfast court would hear their plea against the five men — Seamus Daly, Seamus McKenna, Michael KcKevitt, Liam Campbell and Colm Murphy — and if it is convinced that sufficient evidence does exist to link with the Omagh bombing the families could get huge compensation. According to legal experts, a civil case cannot result in prison sentences but if found guilty the men could lose their assets.

``This will send a message to paramilitaries from both sides that there is a process where these people can be held accountable, and if you stand up to them, like we have, then the general public will rally behind you,'' said Michael Gallgaher, who lost his 21-year-old son in the bombing. A human rights campaigner, helping the families, described it as a huge moral victory saying that "in many ways the families have won already''. All the five suspects allegedly belong to the Real IRA which is opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Of them, only one Colm Murphy has been convicted and is serving a prison term but the writ was served on him also. Two others are in jail on different charges and two are free. Of those killed in the bombing which took placed on a crowded weekend afternoon in the market town of Omagh, one was a woman pregnant with twins. The victims' families are bitter that the perpetrators have escaped `justice'.

"I think everyone is relieved that we have got to this stage, at least the families are doing something, the government does not seem to be doing anything,'' said one man whose wife was killed.

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