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EDITIONS
Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 12:41 GMT
Omagh report: The detail
The Omagh bomb killed 29 people
The aftermath of the Omagh bomb attack
Find out more about the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's report into the handling of the Omagh bomb investigation.

Click on the links to find out more:

  • The remit
  • The telephone tip-off
  • The informer
  • The review
  • Special branch
  • Recommendations
    Click here for the PSNI's rebuttal


    Ombudsman's investigation: Remit.
    Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman formally launched the investigation into the Omagh bomb on 14 August 2001 amid speculation that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had intelligence before the explosion and made mistakes in its subsequent investigation of the atrocity. It set out to answer some key questions:

  • Did the RUC have any relevant information prior to the bomb?
  • If it did have this intelligence, did it "respond appropriately"?
  • Did other branches of the RUC hold information needed by the investigation team?

    One of the key criticisms of the report is that there was "a failure of leadership" by chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan which meant, in the view of the ombudsman, that "the victims, their families and officers of the RUC have been let down".

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    The telephone tip-off

    Eleven days before the bomb, an anonymous caller to an RUC station warned of an "unspecified" attack on Omagh being planned for Saturday 15 August 1998.


    The persons responsible for the Omagh bombing are the terrorists who planned and executed the atrocity. Nothing contained in this report should detract from that clear and unequivocal fact.

    Police Ombudsman, December 2001
    The caller did not mention a bomb but claimed that a number of people, whom he named, would move weaponry to the town and stage an attack on security forces.

    Satisfied that the tip-off could be genuine, the officer who took the call followed the rules and passed the information to both a senior officer and Special Branch, the lead anti-terrorism unit within the RUC.

    Special Branch officers did not inform the senior police commander for Omagh, despite specific rules stating that this should be done.

    An internal RUC review concluded that the tip-off was not relevant to the Omagh bomb and would not have helped officers on the day.

    Ombudsman's conclusions
    The ombudsman's report says that Special Branch knew that the suspects named in the tip-off had republican terrorist associations and that there was sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation.

    It also criticises the manner in which the call was rejected, saying the length of the conversation and detailed given, suggested that it was not a "typical anonymous call".

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    The informer

    Three days before the bomb an RUC informant, known as Kevin Fulton, told his police handler that terrorists were preparing to 'move something North over the next few days'.


    There has been no full investigation of the possible role played by the persons referred to by Kevin Fulton and therefore it is not possible to conclude if a response to this information may have made a difference.

    Ombudsman's report
    Fulton told the officer that a named member of the Real IRA, known as "A", had sought to acquire equipment for bomb making.

    He also said that the Real IRA man had smelt of fertiliser, one of the key components of a large home-made bomb.

    Records kept by the police handler show that Fulton contacted him again shortly before the bombing to reiterate the information he had supplied.

    The police investigation discovered that as the bomb was being moved into place, a call was made from A's mobile phone to one of those believed to be responsible for the attack.

    Ombudsman's conclusions
    Nuala O'Loan says that the accounts of Fulton's conversations with his handler are "highly significant" and she is satisfied that Special Branch received them.

    But she adds: "The fact that Special Branch states that it never received these documents represents, at the very least, a very serious breakdown in communication."

    The report goes on to say that it is satisfied that Special Branch knew that "A" was a dissident republican and that there is no evidence to support allegations that Fulton was anything other than a reliable informant.

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    After the bomb: RUC review

    Between March and November 2000, the RUC conducted an internal review of how it had handled the investigation. The review made 274 recommendations.

    A chapter on intelligence that highlighted "serious and fundamental errors" was not initially handed over to the ombudsman team.

    According to the ombudsman, the internal review identified that "many evidential opportunities" had been missed:

  • The anonymous telephone tip-off was not passed to the investigators
  • The bomb car had been allowed to rust in a car park
  • The senior investigating officer was denied access to surveillance videos of south Armagh, the border area where the bomb was probably built.

    The ombudsman added that the internal review also criticised the management of the investigation:

  • Soon after the bomb, the senior investigating officer and deputy were not able to commit themselves to it full time.
  • RUC management reduced the size of the investigation after two months.
  • There were errors in the investigation's computer system

    Ombudsman's conclusions
    The ombudsman says that there was "defective leadership, poor judgement and a lack of urgency" in the investigation.

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    Role of Special Branch

    One of the key areas of concern in the report remains the role of RUC Special Branch.

    For years the department was at the forefront of counter-terrorism in Northern Ireland and worked independently of the rest of the RUC.

    This investigation has demonstrated that, while Special Branch have made very significant contributions to policing, there is nevertheless a deficiency in the information flow from Special Branch to the rest of the Police Service.

    Ombudsman's report

    The ombudsman's report says that two days after the bomb, Special Branch officers provided the investigation team with "limited intelligence" on five suspects.

    While these five were soon eliminated from the inquiry, the ombudsman says that the information provided by Kevin Fulton was not subjected to "rigorous analysis in the context of other relevant intelligence within the Special Branch system."

    Ombudsman's conclusions
    The ombudsman's team found 360 documents held by Special Branch that it believed were relevant to the Omagh investigation. But 78% of the material was not passed to the investigating team.

    Nuala O'Loan said that Special Branch should have ensured that all "available intelligence resources" relevant to the Omagh Bomb were given over to the investigating team as soon as possible.

    The report reserves particular criticism for the fact that Special Branch had the power to withhold intelligence from senior investigating officers, despite being "ill placed" to know whether or not it was relevant.

    Furthermore, she concludes that some "critical information" was not initially handed to the ombudsman's team and that senior RUC management was "defensive and at times unco-operative."

    "Special Branch and the Chief Constable were reluctant to grant access to their material to the ombudsman's investigators and failed to inform those investigators of a computer system where intelligence, vital to the investigation, was held."

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    The recommendations

    The ombudsman made the following key recommendations which, she said, were a "windows of opportunity" to recover lost ground in the investigation:

  • An independent officer should head the Omagh bomb investigation
  • An independent officer should investigate potentially linked terrorist incidents identified in the internal review
  • Senior investigating officers should have appropriate access to all relevant intelligence held elsewhere
  • The Inspector of Constabularies should review how terrorist incidents are investigated, including the sharing of intelligence
  • There should be a further review of the workings of Special Branch
  • The new Police Service of Northern Ireland should adopt the murder review policy set out by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

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  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Kevin Connelly
    "It will never be known if the attack could have been prevented if information had been acted upon"
    Click here for the full special report

    Ombudsman report

    Bomb trial verdict

    Archive - the blast:

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