Bomb Victims Sue IRA Dissidents
Jul. 26, 2002
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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Victims of Northern Ireland's deadliest bombing delivered court papers Friday naming five suspected senior Irish Republican Army dissidents, the first time that alleged terrorists have ever been sued.
The landmark civil case being pursued by relatives of 29 people slain when a car bomb devastated downtown Omagh on Aug. 15, 1998, is being closely watched throughout Britain and Ireland. If successful, the suit could open the way for other cases in the Northern Ireland conflict in which more than 3,600 people have died, mostly at the hands of the IRA and splinter groups.
Although the Omagh families hope to win financial damages from the five accused, they say the major point of their campaign _ made possible after tens of thousands of people donated more than $1.5 million to a legal fund _ was to establish the men's guilt.
``We are one step closer to justice today, a step nearer seeing in court those who are suspected of murdering ... innocent people in Omagh,'' the fund, known as the Omagh Victims' Legal Trust, said in a statement.
Jason McCue, the human rights lawyer representing the Omagh victims, had two police guards as he delivered civil writs to the isolated border homes of two suspected Real IRA activists, Seamus Daly, 30, and Seamus McKenna, 46.
Daly's father took the documents at his house, while nobody answered at McKenna's, where the lawyer shoved documents through the mail slot.
McCue offered the documents to Daly's father, who initially pushed them back.
``This is a writ for your son Seamus. I'm going to put it through the window and if you could put it onto him please,'' McCue said. ``I'm sorry to bother you. If you could please put it onto him.''
McCue and the police traveled south to Ireland's top-security prison, Portlaoise Prison, to deliver papers to the other three: Michael McKevitt, 51, the Real IRA's alleged founding father; Liam Campbell, 38, its alleged chief of staff; and Colm Murphy, 49, a wealthy border businessman who in January became the first figure convicted in connection to the Omagh atrocity. McKevitt and Campbell accepted the writs, but Murphy refused to meet with McCue.
The lawyer said he expected the court case to begin at Belfast High Court in December or January.
Police have yet to gather sufficient evidence to charge anybody with the 29 murders, but just as in American law, civil suits in the United Kingdom have a lower threshold of proof than criminal cases. The Omagh families said they were inspired in part by the successful civil action taken against O.J. Simpson in the United States after he was found innocent in a criminal trial.
``At least the families are doing something. The (British) government doesn't seem to be doing too much,'' said Stanley McCombe, whose wife, Ann, was among those slain.
The blast occurred four months after the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace agreement of 1998. Among the dead were Protestants and Catholics alike, two Spanish tourists, three generations of one family, and a woman pregnant with twins. More than 330 people were wounded.
The dissidents, dubbed the Real IRA by Irish media, split from the mainstream IRA after its commanders called a 1997 cease-fire and authorized its Sinn Fein party allies to enter the negotiations that produced the peace pact.