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23 August 2001 Edition

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RUC to be investigated

BY LAURA FRIEL

Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan will pursue an investigation into the RUC's role in the Omagh bombing despite bitter criticism from leading unionist politicians.

Last week's announcement of a probe into claims by a former RUC agent that the RUC failed to act upon information that could have thwarted the Omagh bombing, was greeted with calls for the Ombudsman's resignation.

O'Loan said she was to investigate ``issues raised of whether the police received prior warning of the Omagh bomb and of whether any information received was appropriately dealt with.''

Responding to the announcement, leading Ulster Unionist Ken Maginnis suggested the Ombudsman was ``naive and foolish'' and demonstrating ``a lack of understanding''. O'Loan's ``objectives appear to be intended to embarrass the police rather than look at terrorist activity objectively,'' said Maginnis, calling for her to swift replacement.

Ian Paisley Jr of the DUP accused the Ombudsman of seemingly ``holding the police up to public criticism and even ridicule.'' O'Loan ``has to prove that the office of the Ombudsman is there to protect law enforcers from those who would criticise them,'' said Paisley.

O'Loan dismissed unionist criticism pointing out ``it would not be in the interests of either the public or the police for such specific and damaging allegations to be ignored.''

RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has strenuously denied that the RUC ignored a warning 48 hours prior to the Omagh bombing but has been forced to `welcome' the investigation in the interests of the families.

The probe follows revelations by a British undercover operative, known only by the pseudonym `Kevin Fulton'. According to the British media, Fulton was a one-time member of the British Army's covert Force Research Unit.

However, Fulton was working as an undercover agent for the RUC's C16 squad at the time of the Omagh bombing, it has been claimed.

According to Fulton, he was inadvertently alerted by a senior member of the `Real' IRA that there was ``something big on'' more than two days before the bombing. Fulton has also claimed sediment on the man's clothing suggested bomb making.

Fulton alleges he alerted his RUC handler, providing the name and car registration of the man he believed to be planning a bombing. The handler is believed to have passed the information onto senior members of the RUC, the British Army and MI5.

Despite the fact that simple surveillance should have been sufficient to avert the bombing, Fulton has suggested, the RUC and others failed to act. Fulton also claims that after the bombing, he told the investigating officer, RUC Chief Superintendent Eric Anderson of the warning but was never asked to make a formal statement.

The print was barely dry on Fulton's revelations when another alleged agent, using the name of Michael Clarke and interviewed by Britain's Channel 4, claimed that nothing was done because he had warned the British MoD that any action might jeopardise another undercover operative.

It is believed that an investigator from the Ombudsman's office has been in contact with Imran Khan, the solicitor acting on Fulton's behalf and an informal interview has already taken place. The investigator has concluded that there were public interest grounds to launch an inquiry and a formal interview is currently being sought.
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