Northern Ireland

Omagh bombing civil retrial 'could mean relatives testify again'

Omagh bomb scene
Image caption Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were killed in the Real IRA attack

Relatives of Omagh bomb victims could face the "appalling" prospect of having to again testify about their experiences, a court has heard.

Counsel for the families said they were horrified when they learned of an attempt to include the level of damages as an issue at the civil retrial in October of two men being sued over the atrocity.

Judges in the Court of Appeal were told the case against Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly should focus on the question of liability.

The two men are defending an action brought by relatives of some of the 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, killed in the 1998 Real IRA bombing.

The civil retrial was ordered after their appeals against being held responsible for the bombing were upheld.

It is due to get under way at the High Court in Belfast in October.

Two other men found responsible in the initial landmark ruling in June 2009, Michael McKevitt and fellow dissident republican Liam Campbell, failed to have the findings against them overturned.

They are now attempting to take their case to the Supreme Court in London.

No-one has been successfully criminally convicted of the bombing which devastated the County Tyrone market town.

Damages

In June 2009, the two men were found liable for the bombing in a civil ruling, along with McKevitt, a convicted Real IRA leader serving a 20-year jail sentence, and Campbell, a farmer from County Louth currently fighting extradition to Lithuania over an alleged arms smuggling plot.

Mr Justice Morgan, now Northern Ireland's lord chief justice, ordered them to pay £1.6m in compensation.

But in July last year the appeals by Mr Murphy and Mr Daly were upheld.

Lawyers for both sides in the retrial returned to the Court of Appeal on Thursday over claims the two men were seeking to reopen the level of damages in the case.

Brett Lockhart QC, for the plaintiffs, said: "We were horrified by that prospect, because of the appalling vista of potentially having plaintiffs re-examined and also having to give evidence again."

He said it would be "absurd" to allow the issue to feature and possibly lead to varying findings against different defendants.

"We are very sensitive about re-traumatising the victims who have already given evidence," he said.

"It's an experience they wish never to happen again."

Dermot Fee QC, for Mr Murphy, said the level of damages had always been a feature of the case.

He said they would be challenging the "diagnostic labelling" of post-traumatic stress disorder to all the plaintiffs.

"Our argument was, and remains, that it was inappropriate," he said.

The barrister also argued that all issues could be re-opened because a retrial was ordered.

However, Lord Justice Higgins, sitting with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, said the case should only deal with the issue of liability.

He directed that the court's views should be passed to the judge due to hear the retrial.

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