Justice for Omagh? Not quite.

UPDATE (1:20pm): The decision of the Court has just been announced and four of the five people at the centre of the case have been found 'liable' for the bombing. This will go down as a landmark case.

This blog has repeatedly visited the long-running saga of the August 1998 Omagh bombing and the search by the victims' families for justice. As previously noted, I have personal and professional reasons for closely following this case and it is instructional – as a tale of modern-day paramilitarism and policing – for all sorts of reasons.

Today a judgment is due in the multi-million civil case taken by a number of the  victims' families.  The case has been something of a last-ditch effort for a semblance of truth and justice, in the absence of any success delivered through the criminal justice system. No-one has ever been convicted for the bombing, which killed 29 people – plus unborn twins – the worst single atrocity of the NI 'troubles'.

In the words of Michael Gallagher, of the Omagh self-help and support group: "We have experienced nothing but failure and excuses. Monumental failures."

Some of the families blame a botched police operation, others suspect the intelligence services could have done more to prevent the bombing and helped the police investigation afterwards.

BBC Panorama's investigations have provided some evidence to support such a theory and the government's watchdog – the Intelligence Services Committee at Westminster – has seemed unable or uninterested in taking MI5 to task over these most serious of allegations.

The families are suing five men – all with previous or current convictions for involvement in republican terrorism – for their alleged part in the bombing eleven years ago. All are alleged to be leaders of the Real IRA paramilitary grouping and all deny liability. The families are seeking an order of damages against the men.

As the BBC's report reminds us, 'civil cases have a much lower burden of proof, with the judge reaching his verdict on the balance of probabilities. In criminal law, guilt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.'

So today's verdict may or may not deliver some very small satisfaction for these bereaved families, but the Mr Justice Morgan's decision does not make the men guilty; certainly not in terms of the due of process of law, at any rate.

And the fact that the criminal justice system – the police on both sides of the border, the intelligence services, the courts – has not secured any safe convictions of those responsible for this outrage means that the State (i.e. the UK and the Republic of Ireland in this case) has failed the families, the people of Omagh, all of us. 

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