Revealed: Warning signs that could have stopped the Omagh bombing

Emails from FBI agent said to show that services had detailed picture of Real IRA before attack

Crime Correspondent

The British and Irish governments will face demands this week for a new inquiry into their police and intelligence agencies after unpublished emails from an FBI spy raised fresh questions about what the authorities could have done to prevent the  1998 Omagh bombing.

A report, commissioned by families of some of the 29 people killed in the attack, claims that the bombing could have been prevented if three crucial strands of evidence had been linked, leading to increased security  that could have disrupted the bombers’ plans.

The families are expected to renew their calls for a cross-border public inquiry, a year after their report was delivered to the two governments as part of their long-running campaign to learn the full story behind the Real IRA attack.

The report is thought to draw on hundreds of pages of emails between David Rupert – an American trucker-turned-informant who infiltrated republican paramilitaries – and his MI5 handler.

It is understood the emails provide detail on potential planning, locations and personnel for an attack in the run-up to the blast on 15 August, 1998, when a stolen Vauxhall car was packed with 500lb of explosives and detonated in the town centre.

The families say those details were not shared with police on either side of the border before the attack or during the investigation to find out who was responsible.

The report is understood to say:

* a senior Irish police officer failed to pass to his counterparts in the North information that dissident republicans were trying to obtain a vehicle for a bombing, a claim previously rejected by the Irish government and police in the North;

* there is evidence to back claims – denied by the authorities – that the bombers’ car may have been tracked in the run-up to the attack with the help of the FBI;

* three pieces of evidence, from an anonymous tip-off and two informants, could have prevented the bombing if they had been brought together in time;

* the Rupert emails provided MI5 with material that was not passed swiftly to police investigating who was responsible.

Copies of the emails were obtained by the families, and sections were used in a civil case which saw them win £1.6m in 2009 against four men found liable for the murders.

The four included Michael McKevitt, the leader of the Real IRA, who was jailed in 2003 for 20 years for directing terrorism, in a case unrelated to the Omagh bombing. Nobody has been convicted for the Omagh attack. The families say the evidence in their report goes beyond what was revealed in two Panorama programmes, which included claims that on the day of the attack GCHQ was monitoring a phone number being used by the bombers.

Following those claims, a report  by Sir Peter Gibson concluded that the attack could not have been prevented. It was one of a number of inquiries which examined issues including the sharing of evidence, the role of police in the south, and a review of what intelligence was picked up by GCHQ. The families say their inquiry, conducted by private investigators, raises questions that can be answered only by a full, cross-border inquiry.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the bombing, said: “When we started to read the emails, we started to learn the extent of the information that the intelligence services had.

“It was obvious from the emails that early in 1998 they had a handle on these people. They had identified the key players, they had telephone numbers. And they had sources quite close, if not at the top of, this organisation. So when it came to the point of the Omagh bomb, the knowledge they had was very extensive.”

The families believe the Rupert emails, along with warnings of a dissident operation from an agent for British military intelligence and an anonymous tip-off 11 days before the attack naming three men, should have prompted a security operation in Omagh that could have prevented the attack.

The families’ report is believed to have brought together an examination of a series of reports, witness statements and interviews with  key figures involved in the investigation.They are due to give details of their findings at a press conference in Omagh on Thursday, a week before the 15th anniversary of the attack in the market town.

“We are still considering the options and we hope to reach a decision shortly” on the families’ demand for a public inquiry, said a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

Timeline: The search for truth

15 August 1998: Blast rips through Omagh, killing 29 people after a series of contradictory warnings.

October 2000: Panorama broadcasts names of four men connected with the bombing.

December 2001: Report by ombudsman criticises police inquiry and says key intelligence was not passed to inquiry team.

August 2003: Michael McKevitt convicted of directing terrorism and jailed in charges unrelated to the Omagh attack.

September 2008: Panorama reports agencies monitored phones of suspected bombers.

January 2009: Sir Peter Gibson says the attack could not have been prevented .

June 2009: Families win civil claim against four men found liable for the Omagh bomb, who are ordered to pay £1.6m.

June 2012: Campaigners present questions they want answered.

August 2013: Families call for new public inquiry.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent