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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 10:12 GMT
Police chief meets with Omagh families
Police Omagh bomb investigation room
Relatives questioned effectiveness of Omagh inquiry
Northern Ireland's police chief is meeting bereaved relatives to respond to the ombudsman's criticisms of the police investigation into the Omagh bomb.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan is expected to answer the accusations made in Nuala O'Loan's scathing report about police actions before the Real IRA bombing in August 1998 and the subsequent handling of the bomb inquiry.

Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, died in the bombing of the County Tyrone town and hundreds more were injured.

The ombudsman's report, published in December, said the judgement and leadership of Sir Ronnie during the bomb investigation was "seriously flawed".

Chief constable looks on as debris from the scene is examined
Sir Ronnie (left) has defended police actions on Omagh

It also said that the police had a tip-off from an informant about a planned attack in Omagh 11 days before the bombing, which had it been passed on and security checkpoints put in place, may have deterred the bombers.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan has prepared two documents rebutting the report which he will present to the families.

BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme revealed on Thursday night that in the first of the documents, in 87-pages, Sir Ronnie addresses what he calls "significant factual inaccuracies, misunderstandings, material omissions and unwarranted assumptions" in the ombudsman's report.

The second paper deals with Nuala O'Loan's six recommendations on the way forward.

The ombudsman said an outside investigator should be put in charge of the inquiry.

Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan was scathing of the police handling of Omagh
Nuala O'Loan was scathing of the police handling of Omagh

Instead, the chief constable's response has been to appoint a senior detective from Merseyside to advise Detective Superintendent Brian McArthur, who is heading the Omagh investigation.

In his response document, Sir Ronnie says the Merseyside adviser will have unrestricted access to all material requested, and will "quality assure" the investigation.

The adviser is also to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the police's own internal review of the bombing investigation. That review made more than 270 recommendations.

Both the ombudsman's report and the chief constable's response will also be considered by the members of the Policing Board.

The board's deputy chairman, Denis Bradley, said he did not think a standoff had arisen between Sir Ronnie and Mrs O'Loan.

"I do not consider this a standoff," he said.

"I consider this part of the new policing situation in the sense that we never had an ombudsman before, in the sense that we have not actually been at peace before."

Michael Gallagher
Michael Gallagher: "Families want the police to put pressure on the bombers"

Only one person has been convicted in connection with the bombing.

Dissident republican Colm Murphy, a Louth publican, originally from County Armagh, awaits sentence after being convicted on Tuesday of plotting to cause the explosion.

Speaking on the BBC's Spotlight programme, Lawrence Rush, who lost his wife Libby in the bombing said the families were prepared to listen to Sir Ronnie, but would not be fobbed off.

He said the relatives of those killed and injured were not interested in the dispute between the Ombudsman's office and the police.

"Mr Flanagan will stand up and give us an explanation. If we do not find that explanation satisfactory, then we will take steps to rectify that," he said.

"For us it is not a Punch and Judy show. We are not on sides, we are not going on sides, we are on our people's side, the people that died."

Colm Murphy: Convicted of conspiring to cause the Omagh bombing
Colm Murphy: Convicted of conspiring to cause the Omagh bombing

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the blast, said the relatives were only "putting the police under fire so they would put the bombers under fire".

"We have no doubt who planted the bomb, simply because they took responsibility for it. We're never going to allow the blame to be shifted for that," he added.

"But what we do expect is that a professional police force investigates the crimes - serious crimes - and to date that hasn't happened."

Edith White, whose son Brian and husband Fred were killed in the bombing also said she was angry that there seemed to be little progress in the police investigation.

"I feel very sore about the whole affair. As far as I know, or at least as I think, there has been nothing done to try and find the people who did it.

"We got the promise that no stone would be left unturned, well they must be very heavy stones because we haven't seen much done yet."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"The victims' families are far from happy"
Click here for the full special report

Ombudsman report

Bomb trial verdict

Archive - the blast:

PANORAMA
See also:

23 Jan 02 | N Ireland
12 Dec 01 | N Ireland
Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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