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10 February 2017

Omagh relatives brave example of what to do if justice system fails

The aftermath of the Omagh bomb in 1998

Every time I read about families desperate that the murderers of their loved ones be brought to justice, I think of the brave men and women who pursued the bombers of Omagh who wrecked their lives in August 1998.

Let down by the legal system, they took a civil case (where the barriers to a guilty verdict are lower) and saw four of the five defendants found responsible for murdering 29 people.

They were funded first through public appeals and later legal aid.

The guilty men are unlikely ever to disgorge the damages awarded to the families, but they were named and shamed and decent people shun them.

Yesterday, Alan Black, the only survivor of the 1976 IRA sectarian attack at Kingsmill, responded with great dignity when the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced that because they had insufficient evidence, they would not be prosecuting the man whose palm print was allegedly found on a suspected getaway vehicle.

The only good news about this was that the PPS had sent him a detailed document explaining their decision - an indication of how these days some parts of the legal system are making more efforts to consider the feelings of victims.

Alan Black and other victims of Kingsmill hope for answers from the stalled inquest.

If they get no satisfaction, might they consider taking a civil case?

They can be pretty sure that they will get no help from the Legal Aid Agency, who on Wednesday turned down an application for funding from families of the four soldiers murdered in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing who allege IRA on-the-run John Downey has a case to answer.

The reason given was that to grant the £317,000 needed would not be "proportionate to the benefits".

The families' solicitor Matthew Jury, who worked on the Omagh civil case and specialises in cases involving victims of terror worldwide, pointed out afterwards that the state "is willing to spend millions to investigate and prosecute UK veterans - many for actions they took combating terrorism.

"When it comes to justice," he asked, "is a soldier's life worth less?"

Mr Jury is also representing families of the three Scottish soldiers - two of whom were teenage brothers - abducted when off-duty and murdered by the IRA in 1971

With no hope of legal aid, they are seeking crowd funding.

Yesterday John Mason, an SNP member of the Scottish parliament, was forced by a beleaguered First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to apologise for refusing to "take sides" between the IRA and the three dead young men.

Perhaps she could be persuaded by angry Scots to back the crowd-funding initiation.

Isn't it time for good people who feel the scales of justice are tilting in the wrong direction to remember what the ordinary people in Omagh managed to achieve and put pressure on politicians and their hands in their pockets?

Ruth Dudley Edwards is the author of Aftermath: the Omagh bombing and the families' pursuit of justice



Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards