Pair found liable for N. Ireland's worst bombing

BELFAST, United Kingdom (AFP) - Two Irish republicans were found liable on Wednesday for the 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29 people in the worst single attack of Northern Ireland's three decades of sectarian conflict.

In a civil retrial over the car bombing, a judge at Belfast High Court ruled that Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly could be held responsible for the attack by the Real IRA, a paramilitary splinter group of the now-disbanded Irish Republican Army.

Judge John Gillen said the evidence against the pair, primarily from mobile phone records, was "overwhelming".

No one has ever been convicted in a criminal court over the attack in the town of Omagh, County Tyrone.

The landmark civil action was taken by families of the victims, who were awarded £1.6 million (S$3 million) in damages over the attack in a first ruling in 2009.

Daly, Murphy and two other men - including Real IRA founder Michael McKevitt - were held liable in that hearing and ordered to pay the damages.

Daly and Murphy successfully overturned the original ruling last year and they were ordered to face a civil retrial, but Wednesday's ruling means they can still be held liable.

McKevitt, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Ireland for directing terrorism, failed to overturn the civil ruling against him along with fellow republican Liam Campbell.

Both are attempting to have their case heard at the European Court of Human Rights.

Victims' families allege that Murphy, a builder and pub-owner, provided two mobile phones to the bombers while bricklayer Daly was accused of using one of the phones during the bomb run.

Neither was in court on Wednesday for the judgment.

The victims included more than a dozen children and a woman pregnant with twins. Two Spanish tourists were also killed by the blast and more than 200 people were injured.

Gillen said the effects of the bombing were still being felt in Omagh, 15 years on.

"The barrier of time has not served to disguise the enormity of this crime, the wickedness of its perpetrators and the grief of those who must bear its consequences," he said.

Relatives of the victims vowed on Wednesday to pursue their damages from the men found liable for the attack.

"We have not given up on criminal conviction," added Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden died in the blast.

"That's really what we wanted in the first place and sadly it was left up to the families to get a result and to hold people to account for this crime."

The bombing sparked an international outcry and gave impetus to the peace process between Northern Ireland's Protestants, favouring continued union with Britain, and mainly Catholic republicans seeking a united Ireland.

The 1998 "Good Friday" peace agreement largely ended the three decades of sectarian violence known as The Troubles, but sporadic unrest and bomb threats by dissident republicans continue.