Northern Ireland’s highest court has dismissed appeals brought by two republicans found liable for injuries and deaths sustained during the Omagh bomb.
Colin Murphy and Seamus Daly failed to persuade the Court of Appeal that the judge in the original civil case was in error in finding against them.
Relatives of the victims of the 1998 Real IRA attack - which killed 29 people including a mother pregnant with twins - won a landmark legal victory which was today upheld.
A statement from the Judicial Communications Office said: “The Court of Appeal found that neither Murphy nor Daly had persuaded it that the trial judge was in error in concluding that the plaintiffs (the Omagh victims) had proved their case to the requisite standard and accordingly dismissed their appeals.”
The Omagh bomb was one of the worst atrocities of the 30-year conflict. It exploded on a busy shopping street in the Co Tyrone market town and killed and injured dozens of innocent bystanders.
The Real IRA, a dissident republican group opposed to the peace process, was blamed but nobody has been convicted of murder in a criminal court in Northern Ireland.
More than 200 people were injured in the blast.
In 2009 Murphy, a builder and publican from Dundalk, Co Louth, and Daly, a bricklayer from Cullaville, Co Monaghan, were held responsible in the initial civil action taken by some of the bereaved families.
Along with Real IRA chief Michael McKevitt and Co Louth republican Liam Campbell, they were ordered to pay £1.6 million in damages.
McKevitt, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence in the Republic for directing terrorism, and Campbell, who recently successfully fought extradition proceedings to Lithuania on arms smuggling charges, failed in their bids to overturn the Omagh civil judgment.
Murphy and Daly’s appeals were upheld but both men were ordered to face another trial.
Following the retrial, Mr Justice Gillen said the case against them, primarily based on mobile phone evidence, was ‘’overwhelming’’.
Murphy’s grounds for appeal to the Belfast court included that the bereaved families had produced no evidence that he detonated the bomb at Omagh, there was no compelling evidence that his phones were associated with the device, his decision not to give evidence could be credibly explained, and the judge was wrong to find that the case against him was strengthened by the unexplained use of his phone in a dissident republican bomb in Banbridge, Co Down, before the Omagh attack.
The statement from the Court of Appeal’s spokeswoman said: “Lord Justice Girvan said that the Court of Appeal had detected no error of approach in Mr Justice Gillen’s chain of reasoning leading to his conclusion in Murphy’s case that the plaintiffs had discharged the onus of proof to the proper standard.”
He noted that this was a circumstantial case and the individual strands could not be seen in isolation, and while the phone evidence did not subject to scrutiny every car and phone movement in the Omagh area on August 15, 1998, this did not undermine the case.
Lord Justice Girvan said: “The presence of the phone in the area at precisely the relevant times; the route of movement of the phone; the wholly unconvincing lack of any explanation as to how the phone came to be where it was; the effective presentation of an implausible case that the phone had simply disappeared from his house to an unknown person for an unknown purpose and then mysteriously reappeared in the house; the fact that such an implausible case was made out which led to the inference that Murphy was lying and doing so for no good reason; the fact that he led no evidence and suggested no case that he was covering up for someone else close to him; the fact that he must have had evidence to give about the matter and refused to do so and then put forward specious grounds to justify his refusal to explain the evidence available to him; all together produce a sufficiently strong case to satisfy the onus of proof, applying the heightened scrutiny test applicable in the light of the grave nature of the plaintiffs’ charge.”
Daly’s appeal focused on the claim that he had not had a fair hearing. Lord Justice Girvan rejected this argument.
He said Daly’s admission of guilt to the charge of membership of a proscribed organisation which admitted involvement in the bomb must be considered.
The Lord Justice added: “Where a person by confession accepts he subscribes to the aims and means of an unlawful organisation which is prepared to commit terrorist outrages and has not disavowed any intent to carry on serious terrorist activities, it becomes very much less unlikely that he could have been involved in the past in assisting such an organisation.
“We conclude that the judge was entitled to put this plea of guilty into the scales in determining whether the plaintiffs’ case had been proved.”