'It's ridiculous that these people had to suffer'

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Relatives of the victims of the Omagh bomb reacted with anger and dismay to the news that the Special Branch had been warned where and when the attack was going to happen.

Some of the 29 victims' families have already started High Court action for compensation against the suspects in the absence of any criminal convictions. Details of apparent police shortcomings have only increased their frustration.

Stanley McCombe, whose wife, Ann, 48, died in the blast, said he was deeply hurt by the Northern Ireland Ombudsman's report into the Royal Ulster Constabulary investigation. "I'm a very angry person today," he said. "It's ridiculous that these people had to suffer in the Omagh atrocity because of a misdemeanour in the police department.

"It's unbelievable that if they had information they couldn't act on it, if what I'm hearing is true."

Victor Barker, who lost his 12-year-old son, James, warned that the bombers would now try to shift the blame on to the police. "I don't blame the security forces for my son's murder, but I'm disgusted that they didn't act.

"They didn't plant the bomb, but this is going to get used by the Real IRA to claim the police knew about it and were therefore responsible. That's not what any right-thinking human being can accept."

Mr Barker said the report would devastate his wife, Donna-Maria, who was still coming to terms with their loss. "This is going to set her right back," he said.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son, Aidan, was killed, said: "We thought things would get better, but as time has gone on we have seen things getting worse.

"When we meet next week and hear the Ombudsman's full report, we will then come together and discuss how we move things forward.

"I just hope at the end of this process, the Omagh victims and their families will get justice."

Father Kevin Mullan, a priest who comforted the victims' families after the attack, said the report had left them in need of more help. He said: "The people in Omagh are going to feel that the lives of their relatives were of perhaps less value than other so-called principles or policies, and that is very, very hurtful.

"In the face of Christmas, when they are thinking of those who should be there now, the possibility arises that they could have been there.

"If only something had been done we might not have been visiting a grave or sitting at the Christmas table with somebody missing."