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United Kingdom: Court rejects human rights complaint from alleged Omagh bombers

Human rights judges have ruled against a complaint by two men concerning the 1998 Omagh bombing, the single worst atrocity of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles.’

In its decision in the case of McKevitt and Campbell v. the United Kingdom (application no. 61474/12 and no.62780/12) the European Court of Human Rights has unanimously declared the applications inadmissible. The decision is final.

On the afternoon of 15 August 1998, a 500lb bomb killed 29 people (including a woman pregnant with twins) in the centre of Omagh, Northern Ireland, in what the court noted was the single worst atrocity of the Troubles.

Though there has never been a criminal prosecution of those responsible, a civil claim was brought against some of the alleged perpetrators by many of the families that suffered as a result of the bomb.

Michael McKevitt and Liam Campbell were among the defendants to the claim. The action was successful, and they were ordered to pay substantial damages.

McKevitt and Campbell complained to the court that their trial had been unfair. In particular, they claimed that the first instance court should have applied a criminal rather than civil standard of proof, due to the severity of the allegations against them; and that the admission of the evidence of an FBI agent who had not been made available in court for questioning was unfair.

The court dismissed the complaints. In regard to the claim that the judge should have applied a criminal standard of proof, the Court found that this was not necessary because the proceedings had been for a civil claim for damages; there had been no criminal charge. In regard to the evidence of the absent FBI agent, the Court found in particular that the judge had fully considered the need for appropriate safeguards given the witness’s absence; that the defendants had had an adequate opportunity to challenge the agent’s evidence with their own; and that the judge had had due regard to the appropriate considerations when deciding what weight he could attach to the evidence of an absent witness.

In light of this, the court found that the national court’s findings could not be said to have been arbitrary or unreasonable. The applicants had not demonstrated that their trial was unfair, and the court dismissed their applications.

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