Real IRA leader loses legal aid

Michael McKevitt was jailed for 20 years

Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt has lost a legal aid battle to defend a multi-million pound claim brought against him by Omagh bomb relatives.

He had been granted the money for the High Court case, but it was set aside after the Legal Services Commission ruled he had not told the truth in his application.

On Friday, a judge said the decision to withhold the estimated £1m for his defence was based on good reasons and was not wrong in law.

Twenty-nine men, women and children died and hundreds were injured when the Real IRA detonated a car bomb in Omagh on 15 August 1998.

McKevitt, Seamus Daly, Seamus McKenna, Liam Campbell and Colm Murphy are being sued for £14m by the Omagh Victims' Civil Action Group.

"It is clear the judge hearing the civil claim has a vital role to play in ensuring a fair trial."
Mr Justice Girvan

There will be no convictions for murder because it is not a criminal case, but the families could be awarded damages against the men they accuse.

In August 2003, McKevitt, 54, was jailed for 20 years in the Republic of Ireland after being found guilty of directing terrorism and membership of an illegal organisation.

In a reserved judgement at the High Court in Belfast on Friday, Mr Justice Girvan referred to case law and said it was clear the judge hearing the civil claim had a vital role to play in ensuring a fair trial.

If he considered that it was in the interests of a fair trial that the defendant receive legal aid, he could give a ruling to that effect, he said.

Daly, McKevitt, Campbell and Murphy are serving sentences in the Irish Republic for Real IRA membership.

Murphy, a Dundalk-based builder and publican, was sentenced to 14 years in January 2002 for plotting the Omagh attack.

Campbell was jailed for five years in October 2001.

Solicitors acting for the victims' group served writs on the five suspects in 2002.

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