Thursday, August 14, 2008

Consider a photograph

You've probably seen this photo many times before: in the foreground a father with his daughter perched on his shoulders, both looking at the camera.

The background is a street in a town - it stretches off into the distance with cars parked at the side of the road, a row of cars stopped at a junction. In the middle distance on the left can be seen a street, possibly Drumragh Avenue.

People can be seen walking down the street on the left hand side of the photo, while on the right some are about to cross the street while others walk along the pavement. Someone hurries across, partly obscured by a car, while a man in a flat cap also crosses the street.

The car on the right is a red Vauxhall Cavalier, its licence plate clearly visible. Minutes later, the car became shrapnel, the bomb it carried detonating at approximately 15:10.

Three telephone warnings were made:

  • "There's a bomb, courthouse, Omagh, main street, 500 lb (230 kg), explosion 30 minutes." - to Ulster Television at 14:32.
  • "Bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes" - again to UTV, one minute later.
  • The Coleraine office of the Samaritans was also rung, giving the location of the bomb as on "main street", 200 yards (180m) from the courthouse.

The bomb was, in fact, 400m from the courthouse - apparently the perpetrators couldn't park there, so they parked further away and gave vague, inaccurate, indeed contradictory warnings.

The courthouse is at the junction of High Street, Georges' Street and John Street - the bomb was placed on Market Street. The third of the warnings above place the bomb at the junction of High Street, Market Street and Scarffe's Entry. Even though it gave a location that was closer than the others, the actual location was about twice as far from the courthouse as claimed.

But the perpetrators's mistakes cost others their lives, many survivors their health and caused much heartbreak.

The criminal investigation into the bombing has foundered - the police in Northern Ireland have been criticised for ignoring intelligence that a bombing was imminent and other aspects of handling the case. The have managed to make an investigation that eventually led Michael McKevitt, leader of the organisation responsible for the bombing, being convicted of directing terrorism. That is something, at least.

A row has erupted over the wording on the memorial and there are two memorial services which there have been arguments over.

It's now half-an-hour to the tenth anniversarary of this atrocity. I hope that the relatives taking the civil case get some measure of justice - it'll be won't bring back those murdered, nor will it heal the scars, physical and mental, or the heartbreak of survivors. It will be something, no matter how small.

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