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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 20:46 GMT
Ombudsman details Omagh report
Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan has restated the findings of her critical draft report on the police handling of warnings before the 1998 Omagh bombing.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mrs O'Loan and her investigating team presented in detail the results of her office's investigation.
Mrs O'Loan said her report concentrated on warnings that had been received by the police, a series of which came from an informant and one which came from an anonymous informer.
The ombudsman said her team had concluded that the police regarded their informant Kevin Fulton as reliable. However, she said the five warnings he gave between July and August 1998, would not have been enough to stop the bombing.
Mrs O'Loan said, however, that if the police had reacted to a warning from an anonymous caller about a planned gun attack in Omagh on 15 August, checkpoints might have been put in place around the town which could have deterred the Real IRA bombers who killed 29 people.
Before outlining her report, Mrs O'Loan said she wanted to stress that "the people responsible for the Omagh bomb are those who planned and executed it".
But she said she felt it was important to investigate the allegations made in the Sunday People newspaper by a police informant Kevin Fulton that he told the police of a possible attack.
She said it was important to establish whether there had been "massive misconduct" as alleged by Fulton.
And if it was proven that Fulton's allegations were false it would ease the pain of the families and "release the police from further vilification".
Mrs O'Loan said that one of the key focuses of her investigation was on whether Kevin Fulton had been regarded as a reliable informant.
Fulton had been a police informant in the periods 1993-94 and 1996-2001, she said.
His credibility had been called into question in 1994 after he passed on false information to his handlers, Mrs O'Loan said, but in interviews with her investigation team, he explained he felt his position had been compromised and he had had to take action to protect his position.
Mrs O'Loan said that after that period, "there was no record of Fulton being unreliable up to August 1998".
He had been graded as a reliable source by both CID and RUC Special Branch, had been given reliable participation informant status and had been paid well for the information he had supplied.
'No bomb warning'
The ombudsman said that at no time did Fulton say a bomb was being brought to Omagh.
He had, however warned that the Real IRA were going to move something north.
Fulton gave the police information about a man called A, who he said was an active dissident republican terrorist and the informant also took the police to a location which he said had been used in the past for bomb-making.
Mrs O'Loan said: "A should have been treated as a suspect. His role should have been investigated. I am satisfied there is still cause to consider whether A may have had something to do with the Omagh bomb."
However, Mrs O'Loan said: "My conclusion is that even if reasonable action had been taken on the information from Fulton, it is unlikely that the Omagh bomb could have been prevented."
The ombudsman said, however, that had further information supplied by an anonymous informant to the police been handled properly, checkpoints may have been put into place around Omagh.
The information had been passed by a detective constable to special branch.
But, Mrs O'Loan said: "I am firmly of the view that that information was not handed correctly."
The ombudsman said that the caller had detailed how rifles were to be brought into Omagh for an attack on the police on 15 August - the day the bombing took place.
The caller had given details of the planned movements of five people he said were to transport and hold the guns.
He had named and given addresses for three of them, she said.
The constable who had received the information was "very concerned and was convinced it was genuine," she said.
When he informed his line manager he was told to drive to Enniskillen to pass it on to special branch, which he did.
But, Mrs O'Loan said, special branch dismissed the passing on of the information as a "fall-out" between smugglers.
Mrs O'Loan said there had been "very limited action following the receiving of the information" and in particular, the sub divisional commander in Omagh was not informed of any threat.
"It is my clear view that a warning should have been given to subdivisional commander in Omagh," Mrs O'Loan said.
"Had the reaction to such a warning been to establish vehicle checkpoints, the bombers may have been deterred."
Mrs O'Loan added that she felt three of the people named by the informer, D, E and F had been clearly indicated.
"Those named in the information should have been investigated," she said.
Mrs O'Loan condemned the leaking of her draft report, which she said had been supplied in advance only to the Northern Ireland secretary and the chief constable.
The leaked copy obtained by the BBC and other news agencies last week had not come from her or her office, she said.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan replied at a news conference several hours later where he said both he and the force were considering legal action to quash the report.
The chief constable said he considered the report to represent neither a "fair, thorough or rigorous investigation".
He added: "I consider it to be a report of an erroneous conclusion reached in advance and then a desperate attempt to find anything that might happen to fit in with that, and a determination to exclude anything which does not fit that erroneous conclusion."
Sir Ronnie attacked the "basic unfairness" in the report, which he said made "wild and sweeping conclusions".
And, in an emotional statement on the allegations in the report, that failed leadership hampered the investigation of the bombing, Sir Ronnie said he "would commit suicide in public" if he believed the criticisms were true.
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