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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 20:03 GMT 21:03 UK
Police chief rejects Omagh claim
Omagh devastation
Twenty-nine people were killed at Omagh
Allegations that police in Northern Ireland knew about the Omagh bomb and failed to act on it are "absolutely preposterous", RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan has said.

Speaking on the BBC on Friday, Sir Ronnie said the security forces were aware of the threat of the Real IRA, but had no specific information about the bombing in Omagh.

The Police Ombudsman has expressed regret at negative reaction to her investigation into allegations that security forces had a prior warning.

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.

Newspaper article

Sir Ronnie said: "The original newspaper article suggesting that we knew about the Omagh bomb, suggesting that we didn't act in order to protect some informant are now being adjusted to the stage that we had been giving some information about something.


We had information and we had a belief that the Real IRA were very active

Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Chief Constable

"It is absolutely appropriate for the ombudsman to come in and examine that."

He added: "We had information and we had a belief that the Real IRA were very active.

"The suggestion that we had any information, which if acted upon could have prevented Omagh, is an absolutely preposterous suggestion. There's no substance in it."

Mrs O'Loan said on Friday: "Investigations of this sort are highly sensitive and carry huge significance for everyone.

"The relatives of the Omagh victims, the secretary of state, the chief constable and the police authority have all stated their support for my decision, and my focus now is on carrying out the investigation as quickly and as rigorously as possible."

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

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 Sir Ronnie had been informed of the decision to investigate.

Influence

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 Aidan 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 place to investigate these allegations."

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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Noel Thompson
speaks to RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan
The BBC's Kevin Connolly
reports from Belfast
Former Police Authority member Chris Ryder
"These claims have been around for quite some time"
See also:

23 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Dissidents behind bomb attack
31 Jul 01 | Northern Ireland
Omagh relatives meet Northern secretary
18 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Omagh relatives mount protest
25 Oct 00 | UK Politics
No public inquiry into Omagh
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