UK inquiry to probe whether 1998 Omagh bombing could have been prevented

BELFAST/LONDON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - The British government will hold an independent inquiry into whether the deaths of 29 people in the worst attack in decades of violence in Northern Ireland, the 1998 Omagh bombing, could have been prevented, a minister said on Thursday.

On August 15, 1998, Irish nationalist militants opposed to the Good Friday peace deal signed earlier that year detonated a car bomb on a busy shopping street in the Northern Ireland town. Twenty-nine people were killed and over 200 people wounded.

Britain's High Court ruled in 2021 that there were plausible arguments that the bombing by the Real IRA militant group could have been prevented.

"Having carefully considered the judgment of the High Court, I believe that an independent statutory inquiry is the most appropriate form of further investigation," Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris told parliament.

He said the inquiry, to be established "as soon as possible", would examine the handling of intelligence, use of mobile phone analysis, whether there was advance knowledge of the attack and whether disruption operations could have been mounted.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the attack, described the inquiry as a very important step forward for relatives. "There will be embarrassments here for the British government. There will also be embarrassments for the Irish government," Gallagher told Irish state broadcaster RTE.

No one has been convicted over the bombing.

Charges against a 45-year-old-man from the Irish Republic were withdrawn in 2016. In 2007 the only other man charged with the 29 murders, South Armagh electrician Sean Hoey, then 38, was acquitted after a lengthy non-jury trial.

The attack came shortly after the Good Friday peace accord that largely ended more than three decades of violence between Irish nationalist militants seeking union with the rest of Ireland, the British army and pro-British militants who sought to keep the region part of the United Kingdom.

More than 3,600 people died in the bloodshed.

Reporting by Conor Humphries and Amanda Ferguson, editing by Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.