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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Inquiry into bomb 'early warning'
Omagh devastation
Twenty-nine people were killed at Omagh
Allegations that security forces had prior warning of a bomb attack just before the Omagh blast are to be investigated by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.

The intervention of Nuala O'Loan follows newspaper reports that security forces were told of a possible bomb attack, days before a car bomb exploded in a crowded street killing 29 people.

The claims were made by a former security force agent.

Friday's announcement comes two days after the third anniversary of the atrocity in County Tyrone on 15 August 1998.

Nuala O'Loan: To investigate claims
Nuala O'Loan: To investigate claims

Security chiefs have strongly denied the allegations, which have alarmed relatives of the victims and the survivors of the Real IRA blast.

Imran Khan, the lawyer representing the man at the centre of the allegations, said it was important the ombudsman examines the claims.

"Clearly the allegation is very serious and there is a real responsibility on the ombudsman, particularly to the families who have suffered as a result of Omagh, that this allegation is checked and double checked and investigated thoroughly and quickly."

A statement issued from the Police Ombudsman's office said Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid and Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan had been informed of the decision to investigate.

Influence

A statement from RUC headquarters said the chief constable welcomed the examination of the issue, which he hoped "would be reassuring to the families of the victims of this dreadful atrocity".

Last Saturday victims' relatives formally launched a civil action against five men with alleged links to the paramilitary group, claiming it was "their last hope for justice".

Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Adian in the bombing, also welcomed the move and said he hoped the inquiry would move swiftly.

Michael  Gallagher: Welcomed the move
Michael Gallagher: Welcomed the move

He said: "The office of the ombudsman is the proper people to investigate these allegations.

"It would be wrong for me or anyone else to prejudge the outcome of that or say anything that would influence anyone in any way."

However, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass has called for the Police Ombudsman to resign over her decision to investigate the claims.

"What she is doing, by having this inquiry, is detracting from the enormity of the crime of the Real IRA and calling into question the integrity of the RUC as they try to do their job," he said.

Ulster Unionist Stormont minister Michael McGimpsey described the Omagh allegations as "scurrilous".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Security forces would, on a regular basis, be told that there might be a security threat to Northern Ireland.

"But Northern Ireland in those terms is a big place and they didn't know what day of the week and they didn't know where it was coming from.

"The reason why the Omagh bomb happened was because murderous people took a bomb into the middle of Omagh."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Connolly reports
"The families have welcomed the inquiry"
Former Police Authority member Chris Ryder
"These claims have been around for quite some time"
Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughin
"This is news to us"
Click here for the full special report

Ombudsman report

Bomb trial verdict

Archive - the blast:

PANORAMA
See also:

23 Jan 01 | N Ireland
31 Jul 01 | N Ireland
18 Aug 00 | N Ireland
25 Oct 00 | UK Politics
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