United Kingdom: Court set for judgement on Omagh bomb human rights complaint

Later this week, Strasbourg judges will make known their ruling on a complaint concerning the 1998 Omagh bombing, the single worst atrocity of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles.’

The European court’s judgement in the case McKevitt and Campbell v. the United Kingdom (application nos. 61474/12 and 62780/12) will be announced on Thursday 29 September.

The case concerns the Omagh bombing of August 1998.

The first applicant, Michael McKevitt, is an Irish national who was born in 1949 and is currently imprisoned in Portlaoise, Ireland. The second applicant, Liam Campbell, is an Irish national, who was born in 1962 and is currently detained in HMP Maghaberry in Northern Ireland.

On the afternoon of 15 August 1998, a 500lb bomb exploded in the centre of Omagh, Northern Ireland. The blast killed 29 people and two unborn babies, and injured more than three hundred. It was the single worst atrocity of the Troubles.

Though responsibility for the explosion was claimed by the Real Irish Republican Army (“the Real IRA”), no individual has ever been convicted for causing the explosion, or the resulting deaths.

However, many of the families that suffered as a result of the bomb brought a civil action against those who they believed were responsible; claiming damages for trespass to the person, intentional infliction of harm, and conspiracy to injure. The defendants in this action included the two applicants, McKevitt and Campbell.

At the first instance hearing, McKevitt chose not to give any evidence, and Campbell did not attend at all. A large part of the evidence relied on by the plaintiffs had been provided by a witness who did not attend the trial, and could not be cross-examined.

The court found in the plaintiffs’ favour, and ordered the applicants to pay substantial damages. The applicants made an appeal, but this was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 7 July 2011. They were refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on 27 July 2012.

Relying on Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (d) (right to a fair trial and right to obtain attendance and examination of witnesses) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants allege that they were not given a fair hearing. Claiming that the proceedings against them were fundamentally criminal in nature, they maintain that they were not given the procedural protections necessary in criminal prosecutions.

In the alternative, if the proceedings were indeed of a civil nature, they argue that the use of hearsay evidence violated their right to a fair trial.

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