30 May 2002 Edition

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Flanagan flounders

BY LAURA FRIEL


Attempts by the former RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan to discredit the Ombudsman's highly critical report of the Omagh bomb investigation floundered this week after two senior members of the RUC/PSNI investigation team contradicted Flanagan in sworn affidavits.

In the report, O'Loan criticised Flanagan's "judgement and leadership" and that of Assistant Chief Constable Raymond White. Describing O'Loan's report as fundamentally flawed, Flanagan has claimed that White "only became directly involved with the Omagh investigation when he commissioned and resourced the Review on behalf of the Investigation Management Team."

No doubt Flanagan hoped that by undermining O'Loan's credibility in relation to White, he diminished the criticism directed against himself. The Omagh report is currently at the centre of legal proceedings initiated by the Police Association.

The Association has accused the Ombudsman of "unlawful actions" and "gross injustices" and is seeking a judicial review. Ironically, actions designed to defend the former Chief Constable have inadvertently further exposed Flanagan's position.

In defence of the Omagh report, the Ombudsman's Office has submitted two sworn affidavits from senior RUC/PSNI officers directly contradicting Flanagan's claims about the chain of command.

They also question the validity of a sworn affidavit by Raymond White, the former head of both Special and Crime Branch. Echoing Flanagan's claim, White has sworn that he never discharged formal investigation responsibility in any criminal investigation, including Omagh.

However, statements to be submitted by Assistant Chief Constables Alan McQuillan and Sam Kincaid insist that White had a leading role in the investigation and the chain of command stretched to Crime Division headed by White and ultimately to the Chief Constable.

McQuillan became an assistant chief constable with responsibility for the North region, which includes Omagh, just after the bombing. According to McQuillan, Flanagan appointed Detective Chief Superintendent Eric Anderson as 'task force commander' to investigate Omagh.

McQuillan states that in relation to the Omagh investigation, Flanagan did not hold him to account, never asked for information, did not consult him and did not invite him to meetings with the victims' families. Flanagan's actions are indicative of the fact that McQuillan was assigned only a limited role within the investigation.

McQuillan points out that Anderson never reported directly to him and White and Flanagan handled all correspondence and documentation. White conducted weekly briefings of the investigating team and minutes of the meetings confirm McQuillan's account.

Kincaid also contradicts the affidavit signed by White. He says the chain of command ran from Anderson, through White and to Flanagan. The responsibility did not rest with the regional ACC, a claim apparently confirmed by the RUC/PSNI response to O'Loan that details those who were a part of the management team but makes no mention of the local ACC.

Flanagan's claim is further undermined by the fact that when he went to the Policing Board to discuss the Ombudsman's report, White, not McQuillan or Kincaid, accompanied him.

At the core of the Omagh investigation controversy and the focus of O'Loan's highly critical report, lies the Special Branch. The failure or refusal of the Special Branch to pass on information fundamentally undermined the investigation.

Following the killing of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989, the Special Branch appeared to have been equally reluctant to pursue a proper investigation. Interviewed during a television documentary screened this week, former RUC superintendent Alan Simpson, who headed the investigation into the Finucane killing, claimed that had Special Branch not chosen to withhold vital information, the investigation could have secured convictions.

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