MPs call for Omagh bomb review

Fresh investigation is needed into claims vital intelligence was withheld from police, says parliamentary group
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far too many questions remain unanswered about the actions of the intelligence services around the Omagh bombing, the head of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said yesterday.

Sir Patrick Cormack also criticised the Government for allowing him access only to an edited version of a report from an inquiry into claims that the intelligence services had not shared information on the suspects with police.

The committee called for a fresh investigation into the performance of intelligence agencies after looking at a review carried out by the Intelligence Services Commissioner, Sir Peter Gibson.

The Gibson inquiry was set up by Gordon Brown in the wake of a BBC Panorama programme which delved into the question of whether intelligence on the bombing in Omagh, on 15 August 1998, was properly shared. The Real IRA attack, in which 29 people died, including a woman pregnant with twins, has been the subject of numerous legal proceedings and police inquiries but no one has been successfully prosecuted for the murders.

The Gibson inquiry was critical of the Panorama programme, which claimed the Government's listening station GCHQ had monitored suspects' mobile phone calls as they drove to Omagh from the Irish Republic on the day of the atrocity. Panorama said the information was never passed to Royal Ulster Constabulary detectives assigned to the case. The BBC and its reporter John Ware have defended their story.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said Sir Patrick should be shown the full Gibson report rather than a heavily edited version. But the Prime Minister's spokesman said yesterday that when national security was involved only a limited number of people could have access to sensitive information. The spokesman said the report had been seen by the chairman of the UK Intelligence and Security Committee, Kim Howells.

Sir Patrick said: "It is quite wrong that a lot of people – civil servants, police officers below the rank of chief constable, and others – should see this and I should be denied it, because within that report may be some of the answers we are seeking."

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden was killed in the attack, said the Government's position was not acceptable, repeating the long-standing demand of bereaved families for a full public inquiry into the bombing. "I think the honest average man in the street will always say there must be a reason, other than the reason that it could give an advantage to terrorists.

"Sir Patrick wasn't going to give any advantage to a terrorist, so there's not much left for families to believe other than that the Government has something there that's going to embarrass them and they don't want to disclose it to the families."

Last year the Omagh families won a civil case in Belfast, a judge ruling that four prominent republicans were liable for the deaths of the 29 people killed. An award of more than £1.6m was made. This was, however, one of the few legal successes in the Omagh saga. One defendant from south Armagh was cleared of charges of multiple murder.

Another man, Colm Murphy, 57, was sentenced to 14 years in jail in connection with the attack but was last month cleared following a re-trial. He was one of those named in the civil case.

A number of men suspected of having a hand in the Omagh bombing have been jailed for offences unconnected with the attack. Michael McKevitt, who headed the Real IRA at the time of the attack, is serving a lengthy jail sentence in the Irish Republic. He was convicted of directing terrorism but not with any specifically Omagh-related offence.