The bombing of Omagh, which killed not only 29 civilians but also two unborn children, was one of the most infamous acts of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The pity is that the Real IRA, which carried it out, is still around.
The dissident republican policy of seeking to unite Ireland by body count was seen again just last month when they detonated a car bomb in the city of Newry. The fact that a second Omagh was averted was due to sheer good fortune and good police work. One report has it that at least one of the Newry bombers was also an Omagh bomber.
The thought that he is still on the loose rather than behind bars is an affront to Northern Ireland's justice system, for no one is serving time for the Omagh attack. Instead there is a trail of failed investigations and failed prosecutions, on some occasions resulting in unseemly squabbling between various elements of the policing and legal spheres. And there are signs that at least part of this overall failure lies in the depressingly familiar explanation: that the various components of the intelligence world do not share information properly.
Although some of the Omagh bombers were under surveillance, no one can say for certain that they could have been intercepted before reaching Omagh. But John Ware, Panorama's formidably tenacious reporter, made a strong case in his programme 18 months ago that some of their telephone numbers were known, yet were not passed quickly to investigating CID detectives after the explosion.
The huge pressure for a government response which the programme produced resulted in a review by the Commissioner of the Intelligence Services, Sir Peter Gibson. His brief was tightly drawn; his findings Huttonesque in that his disapproval was directed against the BBC rather than against the authorities. Special Branch was cautious in what it told the CID, he acknowledged, but it was no part of his terms of reference to look into this.
And so he did not. Had he done so, he might have produced some answers to the question of why, after more than a decade, no one is in prison for taking 29 lives in Omagh.Reuse content