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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 22:48 GMT
NI police ombudsman's role
Omagh report is Nuala O'Loan's most controversial yet
Omagh report is Nuala O'Loan's most controversial yet
The investigation into police handling of alleged warnings prior to the Omagh bombing is the most high profile undertaken by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan's draft report alleges the RUC received information about a planned attack, 11 days before the 1998 atrocity which left 29 dead, but this was not passed to police officers on the ground.

The report, leaked on Thursday, says that had the information been passed on and security checkpoints been put in place, the bombers may have been deterred.

Twenty-nine people died in the Omagh bombing
Twenty-nine people died in the Omagh bombing

In the year since she began her work as ombudsman, Mrs O'Loan - who earns 75,000 - has received more than 4,000 complaints against the police.

Many of these during a long summer of street violence in Belfast related to alleged assaults and allegations about the misuse of plastic bullets.

But Mrs O'Loan is also able to instigate investigations without formal complaints from the public if she believes it to be in the public interest.

This she decided to do with Omagh.

The police ombudsman can also make recommendations to the director of public prosecutions for any criminal action.


Mrs O'Loan, 49, opened the office of the Police Ombudsman on November 6 last year. She now has has a total of 100 staff.

When it was set up, the ombudsman's role had broad support and the chief constable's backing.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan said: "I think it can only enhance public confidence in the system of the investigation of complaints against police officers."

Mrs O'Loan's chief investigator, Commander David Woods, who is on secondment from the Metropolitan Police, has a team of over 40 investigators under his control.

Many of them, drawn from South Africa, Hong Kong, New South Wales and other United Kingdom forces, were put on the Omagh investigation in August.

The ombudsman's projected expenditure this year runs to just over 6m.

The post was established following the Good Friday Agreement as part of the Police Act to provide an impartial and independent system for investigating complaints against the police.


Mrs O'Loan, a solicitor by profession, has said her vision was of an office that had the confidence of the police and public.

"It has to be effective and efficient, it has to be impartial and it is totally independent," she has said.

When she announced her Omagh investigation, the former Ulster Unionist MP, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ken Maginnis) called for her resignation.

Lord Maginnis: Called for her resignation
Lord Maginnis: Called for her resignation

He said: "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."

Mrs O'Loan was born and educated in England.

She was a law lecturer at the Ulster Polytechnic and University of Ulster from 1974 to 1992. She held the Jean Monnet Chair in European Law at the university from 1992 until her appointment as ombudsman.

Mrs O'Loan has a long history of involvement in policing matters.

She was a lay visitor to RUC stations from 1991-97 when she joined the recently replaced Police Authority for Northern Ireland - again a position she relinquished on appointment as ombudsman.

She has held a series of positions on the Consumer Council, was one the European Commission Consumers Consultative Council as an expert member, and on the Ministerial Working Group on the Green Economy from 1992-95.

The mother of five sons is the author of over 45 publications on consumer law, policing and other issues.

Nuala O'Loan is not even half way through that term but it is difficult to imagine there being a more controversial report from the office, than the draft report on Omagh.

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