RELATIVES of loved ones killed in the Omagh bomb atrocity are vowing to go to court to overturn a government decision not to hold a public inquiry into the attack.
And they had a defiant message for Secretary of State Theresa Villiers: “We will see you in court. You can’t hide the truth forever.”
They plan to meet their lawyers on Friday about mounting a judicial review over her decision.
The decision was announced on Thursday morning by Northern Ireland Office Secretary of State Theresa Villiers in a letter handed to the families of 29 people killed on August 15, 1998 by the Real IRA.
MI5 have blocked any attempt to hold a public inquiry for fear it would further expose its agents working inside dissident republican terror groups.
And it would also expose the level of intelligence the security services had in advance of the attack that failed to stop the RIRA bombers.
Stanley McCombe, whose wife Ann was killed, said the anger he felt at the Government’s decision would drive him onward as the families proceeded with legal action.
“If they want to try and hide the truth about Omagh, they can,” he said.
“But we’ll flush them out at the end of the day. There are no hiding places.
“It’s a democratic country and people have to know the truth.”
Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden died in the August 1998 blast, added: “We’ll do our talking in court.”
Omagh was bombed just months after politicians in Northern Ireland signed the historic Good Friday peace accord that led to power sharing at Stormont.
While no one has been criminally convicted of the crime, four republicans were found liable for the atrocity in a landmark civil case taken by some of the bereaved relatives and ordered to pay £1.6 million compensation.
Last month families who belong to the Omagh Support and Self Help Group outlined details of an independent report they commissioned into alleged intelligence failings in the lead up to the atrocity and with the subsequent criminal investigations.
They had handed the document to the authorities in London and Dublin a year previously and complained vociferously at the length of time the respective governments had taken to respond.
Mr Gallagher said he was “disappointed but not surprised” that ultimately the British Government had now come back with a negative response.
“I think it’s important to note that this is a Government who are actually holding other governments to account over human rights abuses,” he said.
“Last week they wanted permissions from Parliament to go to war, or to launch attacks on Syria. Over a year ago we gave this Government a report which showed that state agencies had failed and 31 people (including the unborn twins) had died and 250 were injured unnecessarily.”
Ms Villiers said it was not an easy decision to make and all views were carefully considered.
She said a current investigation into elements of the incident by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman was the best way to proceed.
“I do not believe that there are sufficient grounds to justify a further review or inquiry above and beyond those that have already taken place or are ongoing,” she said.
“I believe that the ongoing investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is the best way to address any outstanding issues relating to the police investigation into the Omagh attack.
“The fact remains that the Real IRA carried out the bombing in Omagh on 15 August 1998, murdering 29 people and injuring many more.
“Responsibility is theirs alone. I sincerely hope that the ongoing police investigation will bring to justice those responsible for this brutal crime.
“I have met representatives of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, as have a number of my predecessors as Secretary of State. I have offered to meet them again to explain my decision further if they wish.”
Ms Villiers’ statement said representations received by her showed there was support for an inquiry among a number of survivors and families of those killed in the attack, but others felt that a further inquiry would cause them considerable trauma.
All these views were weighed against other factors, including the series of previous inquiries into the Omagh bomb and the current investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, it added.
Not all the Omagh families are involved in the campaign for an inquiry.
Kevin Skelton of the group Time To Move On, said he doesn’t support a public inquiry.
“No public inquiry is going to bring out loved ones back,” he said.
“All a public inquiry will do re-open memories and leave people scarred for many more years,” he added.
But both Mr Gallagher and Mr McCombe questioned the rationale of the Government’s claims that an inquiry would cause trauma to some of the bereaved.
“The Omagh bomb could have been prevented and yet we have the weakest of excuses this morning from the Secretary of State such as some of the families are against a public inquiry because they would be traumatised,” said Mr Gallagher.
“Of course we recognise that people move forward at different levels but does that mean to say that because there are some of us who want justice and truth that we should be denied that because others don’t.”
Mr McCombe added: “But when you get the news it makes you angry, it makes you angry the feeble excuse that Theresa Villiers and her die-hard associates came up with, that it would be very harrowing on other members of the families.
“The way I look at it is: why should anyone else deny me the truth about why my wife was murdered.”
MI5 would have the most to lose from a public inquiry.
In 1998, it was involved in an intelligence war behind the scenes with the RUC Special Branch.
It wanted supremacy for intelligence handling in Northern Ireland but the RUC refused give up is role of police primacy.
However, that changed a few years ago when the PSNI was forced to hand over responsibility to MI5 for all national security issues in the province.
MI5’s other objection to a public inquiry is that they are concerned about revealing details of telephone conversations of the gang before and after the attack which were secretly recorded by GCHQ.
One of MI5’s prized agents was American trucker Dave Rupert who was jointly run with the FBI in America.
In a secret email passed to an MI5 handler known only as ‘Norman’ on April 11, 1998, Rupert warned that the Real IRA was in the final phases of putting a massive bomb together, and Omagh was the likely target for attack.
And the email – one of 4,000 ‘secert’ communiques between Rupert and his MI5 handler – identified a Real IRA figure who was under round the clock surveillance.
The memo reads: “Since he is so involved with the present operation we are speaking of and the last known location of the (Letterkenny) Derry or Omagh would 2 suspect viable targets.
“The general mood of the local organisation is that they are trying to make a slash so they can attract fall away members from SF and IRA before they go to 32cs (32 County Sovereignty Committee).
Two other emails were sent a fortnight before Omagh.
They refer to a bomb attack in Banbridge, Co Down on August 1, 1998. It was of a similar size to the Omagh device and detonated, injuring 38 people.
Two days later he sent another email saying he had spoken to those behind the Banbridge bombing.
“A slow night but one thing is confirmed, the bomb on Sat was so to speak one of ours (CAC) was the words used.”
A third email reported that a third individual reported to be involved in the Banbridge attack was “excited” about something due to happen.
“It sounds like whatever was going to happen was going to happen soon, say maybe like in the next few weeks and it brought him out of a low mood he had been in,” wrote Rupert.
“He was excited about the conversation.”
Dave Rupert is currently in a witness protection scheme somewhere in the United States.
During the trial of Real IRA boss Michael McKevitt, Rupert revealed details of conversations with cheerleaders of the terror group.
He told a court how Donegal publican Joe O’Neill asked him to supply bomb-making materials to him.
Rupert said O’Neill asked him to send Semtex stuffed inside Teddy bears, detonators inside radios and cordite inside ropes and post them to his sister’s school in Ballyshannon.
However, Rupert said he refused to do it.