The Omagh bomb was the worst massacre in Northern Ireland's modern history - yet from it came a most extraordinary tale of human resilience, as families of murdered people channelled their grief into action. As the bombers congratulated themselves on escaping justice, the families determined on a civil case against them and their organisation. No one had ever done this before: many are likely to do it in the future. It was a very domestic atrocity. In Omagh, on Saturday, 15 August, 1998, a 500lb bomb placed by the Real IRA, murdered twenty-nine shoppers - five men, fourteen women and nine children, of whom two were Spanish and one English: the dead included Protestants, Catholics and a Mormon. Although the police believed they knew the identities of the killers, there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. Taking as their motto 'For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing', families of ten of the dead decided to go after these men through the civil courts, where the burden of proof is lower.
These were ordinary people who knew little of the world - they included a factory worker, a mechanic and a cleaner; they had no money, no lawyers, and there was no legal precedent for such an action. This is the story of how - with the help of a small group of London sympathisers that included a viscount and two ex-terrorists - these Omagh families surmounted all the obstacles to launch a civil case against RIRA and five named individuals, developed with reference to recent European legislation by one of the world's leading human rights lawyers. Along the way the families became formidable campaigners who won the backing of Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush as well as of Bob Geldof and Bono. How these relatives turned themselves into the scourge of RIRA is not just an astonishing story in itself. It is also a universal story of David challenging Goliath, as well as an inspiration to ordinary people anywhere devastated by terrorism. RIRA today: ETA tomorrow: the Mafia, perhaps, the day after.
Winner of CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction 2010.
Ruth Dudley Edwards is an historian, journalist and crime writer. Her non-fiction includes Victor Gollancz: a Biography (winner of the James Tate Black Memorial Prize), The Pursuit of Reason: The Economist, 1843-1993, and, most recently, Newspapermen; her nine crime novels are satires on the British Establishment.