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The BBC's Rob Watson
"The FBI's director Louis Freeh said he accepted full responsibility for the mistake"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 23:28 GMT 00:28 UK
FBI admits McVeigh blunder
Timothy McVeigh showed no remorse for the1995 Oklahoma bombing which killed 168 people and injured more than 500
McVeigh has admitted carrying out the bombing
The head of the FBI has admitted "serious error" in the US intelligence bureau's handling of the case of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh.

FBI director Louis Freeh was speaking publicly for the first time since it was revealed that thousands of documents had been withheld from McVeigh's lawyers at the time of his trial.


As director I have taken responsibility - the buck does stop with me

FBI director Louis Freeh
His comments came on the day McVeigh was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection - but the FBI revelations prompted Attorney General John Ashcroft to postpone the execution until 11 June.

Mr Freeh, appearing before a Congressional hearing, apologised for the pain that had been caused to the survivors and families of the victims of the bombing, many of whom had expected to finally find 'closure' on Wednesday.

He accepted full responsibility for the error and revealed that more documents had been discovered, in addition to those handed over to McVeigh's lawyers last week.

Mr Freeh has already announced plans to retire next month - two years before the completion of his scheduled term.

Lack of co-ordination

McVeigh was convicted of blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City on 19 April 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children.

Outlining the series of problems and mistakes that had contributed to the bureau's failure to turn over the documents, Mr Freeh said: "I am not here to minimise our mistakes or to make excuses."

Louis Freeh leaves a Senate hearing
FBI director Louis Freeh leaves a Senate hearing
The FBI has come under fire in recent days for its handling of the case.

Mr Freeh explained that the error occurred because of a problem of co-ordination between the FBI's field offices and the bombing command post in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma City office was installing a new computer system at the time, and this had disrupted the process of uploading investigative documents.

'Lack of judgement'

Legal experts have said the newly disclosed documents are unlikely to overturn McVeigh's conviction, but they are serving as the basis of an appeal by McVeigh's convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols.

"Regardless of how extraneous these documents are, if they were covered by the discovery agreement, they should have been located and released during discovery. As director I have taken responsibility. The buck does stop with me," Mr Freeh said.

Federal building, Oklahoma City
168 people, including 19 children were killed in the blast
The "discovery agreement" relates to a practice during criminal proceedings in which prosecutors typically share evidence with the defence lawyers.

On Tuesday, the FBI director appeared at a closed-door inquiry in the Senate, where he was told that there was concern about some of FBI's procedures.

"It does cause us all to be concerned about some of the goings on, lack of efficiency, lack of judgement perhaps, at the FBI," Senator Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said.


His spirits are good. He remains willing to consider all options that may be available to him

McVeigh lawyer Nathan Chambers
He accused the bureau of having "too many failures, too many blunders," in recent years.

On Wednesday McVeigh met his lawyers, who said he was keeping his legal options open and was playing an active role in deciding whether to appeal against his new execution date.

"His spirits are good. He remains willing to consider all options that may be available to him," lawyer Nathan Chambers told reporters.

"We have a lot of work to do. Now is the time for us to work and not talk," he said.

New execution date?

The lawyer said that the 33-year-old Gulf War veteran was playing an "active role" in determining legal strategy.

"Everything is available to us now in terms of potential legal options and we're going to pursue them all," added fellow defence lawyer Rob Nigh.

He also said it was impossible to say at this point whether McVeigh's new execution date next month would be reset to a later date.

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See also:

11 May 01 | Americas
Profile: Timothy McVeigh
13 May 01 | Americas
'No more delay' in McVeigh execution
12 May 01 | Americas
McVeigh shows FBI 'in turmoil'
12 May 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Trying to explain McVeigh
16 May 01 | Americas
Oklahoma mulls execution delay
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