The battle for a public inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bombing is set for the courts after the Government ruled today there were insufficient grounds to suggest that police and intelligence agencies could have prevented the attack.
The families of some of the 29 people who died said they would meet with lawyers on Friday to challenge the decision by Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, not to launch a cross-border inquiry.
They presented the Irish and British governments with a report more than a year ago which claimed the bombing by the Real IRA could have been prevented if three crucial strands of evidence had been linked and extra security disrupted the bombers’ plans. Some families have opposed demands for a public inquiry saying it would reveal nothing new.
In a statement, Ms Villiers said: “I do not believe there are sufficient grounds to justify a further review or inquiry above and beyond those that have already taken place or are ongoing.
“The Government does not believe that selecting a further series of cases for public inquiries is the best way to deal with the past in Northern Ireland.”
The families said the decision was expected, but promised to fight the decision in the courts where details of their report will be revealed. It draws on hundreds of emails between David Rupert – an American trucker turned agent 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 August 15, 1998, when a stolen Vauxhall car was packed with 500lb of explosive and then exploded in the town. It killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injured more than 200.
The families say the 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.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among the victims, said: “Look at how many years the Hillsborough families had to wait before they got the truth after denial, denial, denial by the system. We are certainly not going to wait that long.
“We will take our evidence before the court and let them decide if we have enough to merit a public inquiry. This is a government that has had our report over a year ago indicating that this atrocity was preventable.”
The families have been supported in their campaign by Amnesty International and the former Northern Ireland police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan, who compiled a report on the bombing 12 years ago.
The Omagh relatives have not published the report to prevent prejudicing any future trial, but the Independent understands it draws on interviews, previously unseen documents as well as the Rupert emails. They 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 for 20 years for directing terrorism in a case unrelated to the Omagh bombing. Nobody has been convicted for the Omagh attack.
The families maintained that there was an “enormous” amount of intelligence that could have been used and shared. Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker said the report made “shocking and disturbing allegations” about failures by security forces and both sides of the border.
Ms Villiers said that she received representations from some of the victims who said that a further inquiry would call them “considerable trauma”.
Kevin Skelton, whose wife Philomena was among the victims, opposed a public inquiry and believe they would not learn anything new from it.
“We know the answers. I know there were dirty deeds done round Omagh and the Government, whether there is a public inquiry or not, they are going to bury them, and they have the power to do that,” he told the BBC.
Ms Villiers said she believed that a continuing inquiry by the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland was the best way to address any outstanding issues.
But Mr Gallagher said that inquiry was as flawed as many that had gone before it. “The inquiry does not have the power to compel witness to come forward. We’ve had 20 or so inquiries, the common denominator has been that certain witnesses have refused to cooperate.”