RUC will review its failure to prosecute Omagh bombers

A special team of detectives has been appointed to carry out a review of the investigation into the Omagh bombing amid mounting frustration that the killers are still at large.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary's Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said yesterday officers would re-examine efforts to being charges against dissident republicans suspected of the August 1998 attack. The independent assessment is the first of its kind by the RUC.

"We owe nothing less to the relatives," said Sir Ronnie. "The original investigation was, and continues to be, of the highest order and this is merely an application of fresh minds to review everything that has been done. We want to be absolutely satisfied beyond any doubt there are no avenues left unexplored."

The chief suspects believed to be behind the attack, in which 29 people were killed when a car bomb exploded on a Saturday afternoon in the centre of the packed town, have long been identified. At least seven of them are thought to be based in Dundalk, Co Louth.

Although the suspected main players - all members of the dissident group the Real IRA - have been questioned by both the RUC and the Gardai, none has been charged because of lack of evidence.

"It is desperately difficult," said Sir Ronnie. "We have very good intelligence, but intelligence in a liberal democracy does not equal evidence that can be presented before a court.

"We believe we know the identities of those responsible for the Omagh bomb but putting that belief into a framework of evidence that a court would accept is what we are continuing to endeavour to do."

One man has been charged in connection with the attack.But there has been a growing acceptance that the bombers may not be caught. There has been growing anger too, from the families of the victims.

Donna Barker, the mother of 13-year-old James, who was among those killed, has exhumed her son's body to have him reburied in England, to where the family is returning.

The decision was reportedly based partly on her anger at the investigation's failure and the response of the Sinn Fein presidentr, Gerry Adams, to her personal appeal for his help. He said he could not help because he had no faith in the RUC.

"We find it difficult to be in Ireland," she said. "We thought by now they would have got someone, but that's politics. I'm very angry. I have been angry from the start but Victor [her husband] and I will keep on the fight from England."

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son, Adrian, was killed, said: "The whole world knows what happened but people find it inconceivable nobody has been brought to justice. It seems to make a mockery of law and order."

Detective Superintendent Brian McVicker, one of the RUC's most senior officers, will lead the review. Yesterday he emphasised it was not a re-investigation. About 80 suspects on both sides of the border have been questioned and more than 2,000 people interviewed.

Colm Murphy, 48, of Belleek, Co Armagh, the owner of a Dundalk pub, is on £100,000 bail after being charged with conspiracy to cause the Omagh bombing and membership of an illegal organisation. His trial is due to start in Dublin next year.

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