New legal bid to halt programme on Omagh bomb

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The Independent Online

A fresh legal attempt is to be made today to prevent tonight's BBC Panorama programme on the Omagh bombing from naming people said to be connected with the Real IRA attack that killed 29 people.

A fresh legal attempt is to be made today to prevent tonight's BBC Panorama programme on the Omagh bombing from naming people said to be connected with the Real IRA attack that killed 29 people.

Although some of the relatives of the victims say they strongly approve of the programme, one man who lost his wife in the explosion is to ask the High Court in Belfast to stop its screening.

Lawrence Rush, whose wife, Libbi, died in the bombing, says he is to appeal against an unsuccessful legal attempt last week to prevent the programme being broadcast. Mr Rush said the documentary could jeopardise future trials.

He added: "No one can tell me this trial by television is the way to go. It will let those involved escape justice. Suspects should be brought before the courts, not paraded in front of a nationwide audience."

The programme was supported by Victor Barker, whose son James died in Omagh. He said: "My family was completely behind this programme. It has been very carefully researched and looked at to ensure complete fairness to the suspects at their trial.

"Its purpose is so the horror of that day will not be forgotten and people's consciences will be stirred to bring those responsible to justice. For that reason it has my unequivocal support."

The lengthy inquest into the 29 deaths has just ended in Omagh, with some relatives saying, after meeting officers from both the RUC and Garda Siochana, that they hoped the bombers might yet be charged. The hearing was told by a senior detective that the RUC believed it knew those involved.

Thousands of people have been questioned in the investigation into the bombing and detectives have said they know the identities of those responsible but do not have the evidence to bring them to court.

Charges have been brought against only one man, Colm Murphy from Dundalk, for conspiracy to cause an explosion.

The Panorama reporter John Ware has confronted several people living in the border counties of the Irish republic who were interrogated by police about the attack. Each was said to have failed to explain their movements on the day of the bomb or their connections with mobile phones that were tracked in and out of Omagh.

The BBC head of news, Tony Hall, said the decision to name the suspects was in the public interest, adding: "We are most thankful to the families of the victims and the police who have contributed to the programme, and we hope broadcasting our investigation will result in new evidence coming to light."

However Professor Brice Dickson, who heads the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, has said those named in the documentary could challenge the BBC under the European Convention on Human Rights, which became law in Britain last week.

Mr Rush's barrister, John Coyle, has argued that broadcasting the names would be an infringement of the charter's provision that everyone has the right to a fair trial.

He has produced a letter from the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, to the BBC warning that any broadcast could affect a future prosecution.

At last week's hearing in the High Court in Belfast, the BBC's barrister, Ben Stephens QC, said the programme would not interfere with a fair trial because any future trial would be heard before a judge only so there was no question of a jury being influenced.

A BBC spokesman said: "The BBC have always maintained that the decision to name the suspects is right and was taken after careful consideration of the legal implications.

"We therefore continue to believe that it is very much in the public interest that our programme should be broadcast on Monday and we hope that doing so will result in new evidence coming to light."

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