31 October 2002 Edition

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Omagh warnings ignored


The RUC Special Branch, it has been revealed, was warned four times in the days before the Omagh bombing that an attack was imminent. Significantly, one warning identified Omagh as the intended target.

According to a British agent working close to the breakaway gang, warnings that a bomb was being prepared and the name of the bomb maker were also passed on to his handlers. One warning was received on August 14 1998, the day before the bomb exploded in the town killing 29 people.

But despite an apparent abundance of information and repeated warnings, there appears to have been no attempt to track or intercept the bombers. The RUC/PSNI's lack of action to prevent the bombing has been further compounded by an apparent unwillingness to fully investigate the incident afterwards.

A report by the Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan into the subsequent RUC/PSNI investigation into the bombing was highly critical. The report accused Special Branch and senior officers of a "failure of leadership, poor judgment and lack of urgency."

O'Loan's report was based on an internal review of the investigation and uncovered a litany of errors. The Ombudsman exposed two warnings, one from an anonymous caller on 4 August that there would be an attack in the town on 15 August and information from British agent Kevin Fulton, who told his RUC handlers three days before the attack that a major bombing was being prepared.

Channel 4 News has now revealed a further two warnings had been received by Special Branch, one on 11 August and another on 14 August.

There are only four arteries into Omagh, suggesting that thwarting the bombing would have been a relatively easy task but one that Special Branch apparently preferred to ignore.

The programme revealed that Special Branch had blamed their failure to act on the warning of 4 August because "technical assistance could not be deployed in tracing the call".

An internal inquiry also claimed that a detective who had passed the first warning to Special Branch was distressed by the lack of action and subsequent lack of urgency in the investigation. On being questioned, the detective had asked: "Why has it taken two years for anyone to come and talk to me about this?"

The programme also exposed key aspects of the investigation that had not been followed through. These included a failure to trace 150 cashpoint users prior to the explosion, no record of DNA sampling, the failure to trace 118 vehicles and no action to trace a white van believed to have been involved in the bombing.

Meanwhile, an inquiry into allegations that the Gardaí also failed to act on information prior to the Omagh bombing has also been emerging.

A Garda detective sergeant, John White, currently suspended, has told the North's Ombudsman that, acting on information, he informed a senior Garda member of the bombing threat only to be told that "we are going to let this one go through".

According to White, another member of the Gardaí who was present remained silent and looked at the ground. When White asked, "what if somebody is killed?" he alleges the senior officer referred to two recent bombings in Moira and Newtownhamilton in which, despite considerable damage, no one had been injured.

In the immediate aftermath of the Omagh bombing, both the British and Dublin governments rushed through draconian legislation circumventing pressure to revoke repressive laws in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement.

Policing Board failure

Sinn Féin's spokesperson on policing and justice, Gerry Kelly, says "the Special Branch were then and are now acting to an anti-Agreement and anti-Peace Process agenda. In my opinion the decision not to intervene in the Omagh bomb was part of this strategy, although the numbers of fatalities could not have been predicted. The RUC Special Branch continues to operate unchanged within the PSNI as a malign force within a force.

"The Policing Board has failed to deal with this central issue. The Policing Board's primary responsibility, as envisaged by Patten, is to hold the police force to account.

"Having been presented with a damning critique of the RUC relating to the period before and after the Omagh Bomb, the Board's responsibility was to take action against those who failed before Omagh, failed after Omagh and did their utmost to subvert and obstruct the investigation by the Ombudsman into their multitude of hidden failures."

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