Pressure mounts for the release of the Omagh tapes

I’m glad to say that the mystique of the secret world isn’t overawing everyone with connections to the British establishment. John Ware of Panorama who has a reporter’s relationship ( that is, nervous silence in the case of his recent Omagh programme). amplifies the obvious questions I posed on the back of the programme.

“There is a much easier way to clear up what GCHQ knew about the Omagh bombers and when: it is simply to establish whether any of GCHQ’s intercept material still exists.

If it does, it is surely not Sir Peter who is best placed to assess whether it could have benefited the police investigation, but rather the detectives who were originally deprived of it.

If the Government is serious about helping the families, there is a simple way to do it: disclose whatever material there is relating to GCHQ’s intercepts both to the detectives and to the families’ lawyers, who are now suing five suspected bombers in the High Court in Belfast.”

Milords Trimble and Bew, along with the Labour member of the Commons NI select committee David Anderson, say “it is imperative that the recordings and transcripts of what the bombers said as they drove to put the “brick in the wall” should be made available to lawyers representing the families in the ongoing civil case being heard in Belfast. …. public servants should be allowed to assist the lawyers and be able to give evidence without any fear of prosecution or punishment.

Silence as an answer will suggest the Government are in a blue funk about what to do. Unfortunately the House of Lords is in recess; otherwise the question would demand an answer. At least they’ve put down a marker. I hope they keep the pressure up and others join them. A great ally would be Baroness Park of Monmouth a scourge of the IRA in the Lords for years and in her younger days an MI6 controller of Soviet spies who in 2005, noted the cost of the Omagh families’ civil case.“The people of Omagh were granted help by Her Majesty’s Government only last year (2004) for a civil action, and so far they have received only £354,373 compared to the £155 million, still rising, for the Bloody Sunday inquiry.The citizens of Northern Ireland are regularly denied justice, not by the state….” (In all, the government contributed a total of £800,000 to the fund.)

The usual excuse for unwarranted silence is that it would set a precedent. Yes indeed. Disclosures about the horrors of Omagh would mark a good beginning to launch a wider comb-out of the official records by someone like the former cabinet secretary Lord Butler, who did a good job in examining the accuracy of the Iraq intelligence.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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