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24 January 2002 Edition

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Omagh: Missing files and 'recreated' statements

RUC detectives investigating the Omagh bombing 'recreated' 357 important documents, possibly including witness statements, which were 'lost' or 'inadvertently destroyed' during the first 18 months of the inquiry.

The fabrication was unearthed during an internal review but the details were kept secret. Senior RUC Chief Superintendent Brian McVicker began his inquiry into the investigation in March 2000 and on completion handed the report to RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan.

This latest revelation did not appear in Policing Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan's report released just before Christmas but adds further weight to the report's criticism of the Special Branch and Chief Constable.

O'Loan's report enraged Flanagan, who was personally criticised. The Chief Constable denounced the report, claiming it was full of inaccuracies and vowing to refute the claims. If the report stood up to scrutiny, Flanagan said, he would "publicly commit suicide"

In another damning indictment it has been revealed that the book detailing the intelligence prior to the bombing, including telephone warnings, is 'missing'.

The handwritten book disappeared after senior RUC officers were questioned about warnings in advance of the bombing. The book's disappearance has never been explained but it meant that officers from O'Loan's office were unable to examine the record documenting warnings, their significance and the type of action taken, if any.

The book was kept in the top drawer of a senior RUC officer's desk at the Omagh RUC barracks. O'Loan asked to scrutinise the record in September but was told it was 'lost'.

"Many people will find it unbelievable that such an important piece of the Omagh investigation could suddenly disappear from within the RUC barracks," said West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty, who pledged to raise the matter with the British government.

And as we go to print, it has been leaked that Ronnie Flanagan is to vigorously try to defend his and his force's investigation in a rebuttal of O'Loan's swinging criticisms, to be published today. Flanagan is also to meet with Omagh relatives to attempt to defend the manner in which the case has been handled.

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