The Omagh bombing was carried out by dissident republicans several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement
The Omagh bomb could have been prevented if the security forces had acted differently, a former police ombudsman has claimed.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan made the comments on the 20th anniversary of the greatest single loss of life in the Troubles.
The chief constable rejected her claim and said her comments would further “traumatise” victims’ families.
A woman pregnant with twins was among 29 people killed in the dissident republican attack on 15 August 1998.
In Omagh, a bell will be rung 32 times in memory of the victims later on Wednesday.
The additional, single peal will be rung for all who have lost their lives in atrocities around the world.
‘Could have been stopped’
Baroness O’Loan who investigated the police’s actions in the lead up to the bombing, said: “When I reported on Omagh I said we didn’t know whether the bomb could have been prevented.
“It is now my very firm view that the bomb could have been prevented.”
The men behind the attack
Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt was responsible for the Omagh bomb, a High Court judge found in a civil case in 2009.
Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly were also found liable for the attack.
Seamus McKenna was cleared. He died in 2013.
The four men were named by Mr Justice Morgan in a ruling made as part of a landmark case taken by some of the families of the victims.
The 12 relatives were awarded more than £1.6m in damages for the attack but to date none has been paid.
“There was sufficient intelligence to take action. The taking of that action could have prevented the bomb from exploding.
“This wasn’t just a random bomb. The police knew an awful lot about the activities of the IRA in this area.”
Baroness O’Loan repeated her calls for a public inquiry to be held.
When she was police ombudsman, her office carried out an investigation into the police’s handlings of warnings before the bombing.
She said the intelligence services were tracking the movements of the car containing the bomb from the Republic of Ireland.
A painful day
By BBC News NI’s Julian Fowler , in Omagh
Omagh’s Market Street is busy with shoppers as it was on this date 20 years ago.
Relatives who have organised today’s event say it is about remembrance, hope and moving forward, recognising the forgotten people of the Omagh bomb, such as the emergency services and the ordinary people who helped in the aftermath.
For some the anniversary is too painful to join the public commemoration.
They will remember their loved ones in their own way.
This morning one person came alone to lay a bunch of flowers at the memorial.
Others will spend the afternoon at the graveside of their loved ones.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton rejected the idea that police could have prevented the bomb.
“If it is factually true and can be proven to any standard of proof whatsoever, why did she not say it in 2001 when she published her report?,” he told The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster.
“Then, when she held the office, when she had access to all the material, she came to the conclusion that she could not know based on all that information if the bomb could have been prevented.
“She now has changed her position on that, without real explanation.”
Omagh bomb timeline
15 August 1998 – A large car bomb explodes on a Saturday afternoon in the centre of Omagh, County Tyrone, fatally wounding 29 people
18 August 1998 – The Real IRA claims responsibility for the bomb
6 August 2003 – Alleged founder and leader of the Real IRA Michael McKevitt is found guilty of directing terrorism
Kevin Skelton, whose wife Philomena died in the Real IRA atrocity said that Baroness O’Loan’s comments do not “make any difference”.
“Telling us now that the bomb could have been prevented is a bit late,” he told BBC Radio Foyle.
“It should have been prevented at the time.
“It won’t bring my wife back.”
A town remembers
The Omagh bombing was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The bomb, which was packed with 225kg of explosives, detonated in a vehicle parked in the middle of the main street just after 15:10 BST on 15 August 1998.
A warning had been called in 40 minutes earlier but had given the wrong location of the car containing the bomb.
The dead included three generations of one family.
No-one has been convicted over the bombing.
The bell-ringing event is part of a public vigil to be held at the bottom of Market Street, beginning at 14:55.
The bell will stop ringing 15 minutes later, at the time of the explosion, and will be followed by a two-minute silence.
Omagh bomb: Community Youth Choir 20 years on
Flower petals will be distributed, which people can scatter in the river, or place in the pond of a memorial garden created to remember the victims.
These event is being co-ordinated by a group of organisations, including Omagh Support & Self Help Group, Families Moving On and the Omagh Churches’ Forum.
On Sunday, a cross-community service was held at the town’s memorial gardens.
Victims and their families were remembered with prayers, music and speeches.
Each year over the past 20 years, people have come together to mark the anniversary, but this year’s event in the memorial garden will be the last to take place on this scale.
Last year, relatives of the victims announced they would sue George Hamilton for failings they believed allowed the killers to escape justice.
Mr Hamilton said on Sunday he understood why the families would feel “angry and let down”, adding that even the huge amount of investigative effort – with 99 arrests and 11,000 investigative actions by the PSNI and An Garda Síochána (Irish police) – “is not good enough”.
“People have not been brought to justice… but the families have an assurance from me that if new evidence emerges, we will actively pursue that. But it is also fair to say, and realistic, that as time goes by, the chances of a criminal justice outcome reduces,” he said.
With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story.