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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 18:32 GMT
Omagh report: PSNI rebuttal
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, chief constable of the PSNI
Sir Ronnie Flanagan: Rejects leadership criticisms
The Police Service of Northern Ireland says that its rebuttal of the ombudsman's investigation of the Omagh bomb inquiry is a "compelling response to unfounded criticisms".

While PSNI chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan accepts that some mistakes were made, he insists that nothing could have been done to prevent the 1998 bombing. Click on the links to find out more.

Click on the links to find out more:

  • The rebuttal
  • The telephone tip-off
  • The informer
  • The review
  • Special branch
  • Recommendations
    Click here for the detail of the Ombudsman's report

    Ombudsman's investigation: The rebuttal
    The PSNI report goes through the Ombudsman's report line by line and rejects a number of key allegations laid out by Nuala O'Loan:

  • Evidence from an informant was properly assessed and could not have prevented the atrocity
  • There were some mistakes in the handling of some information but nothing that would have had a material effect on the inquiry.
  • Special Branch is not a "force within a force".
  • Allegations of poor judgement by the chief constable are unfounded.
  • The PSNI denies that it failed to co-operate with the Police Ombudsman.

    In summary, the PSNI says "no intelligence was available to suggest that Omagh was to be the target of a bomb attack on 15 August".

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    The telephone tip-off

    Ombudsman's allegation
    On 4 August 1998, an anonymous caller to the RUC warned of an "unspecified" attack on Omagh being planned for Saturday 15 August 1998.

    Special Branch did not pass the information to the Omagh police commander as required despite the nature of the tip-off.

    PSNI rebuttal
    The force rejects the ombudsman's assertion that Special Branch officers took "limited action", saying that her team did not interview the officers concerned.

    It says that the officers contacted police colleagues in Omagh and also in the Irish Republic for intelligence but found nothing to substantiate the claims.

    The police say that they did not finally dismiss the tip-off until six days later. It rejected the tip-off because:

  • Those named had no previous known involvement with dissident Republicans
  • Checks on both sides of the border failed to uncover any such links
  • The anonymous caller had not phoned again as arranged
  • The information did not fit with the pattern of 23 previous dissident attacks in 1998

    The PSNI rejects the ombudsman's criticism of not alerting Omagh commander, saying that it is not mandatory to circulate all threat information.

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    The informer

    Ombudsman's allegation
    An informer known as "Kevin Fulton" provided information of dissident republican activity in the months running up to the bomb attack.

    He told his handler that he had met a dissident republican known as "A" who smelt of fertiliser, a key ingredient of home-made bombs.

    Days before the bombing, Fulton told his handler that terrorists were preparing "to move something North".

    The detective passed the information to Special Branch via the Force Intelligence Bureau but, the ombudsman says, the intelligence was not acted upon.

    PSNI rebuttal
    The PSNI says that Fulton's intelligence was "erroneous or implausible". Secondly, it says that the dissidents named by Fulton were not "firm suspects", as suggested by the ombudsman.

    The PSNI says that the ombudsman is wrong to conclude that the RUC treated Fulton as a "reliable" informant and that her investigators saw documents to that effect.

    The PSNI says that Fulton changed the dates of when he had smelt fertiliser on the suspect "presumably to imply some kind of link with the Omagh attack".

    Turning to the handling of the information, the PSNI says that details of two of five meetings between Fulton and his handler did not reach Special Branch.

    It blames "administrative error" but stresses that the information was "either inaccurate or irrelevant to Omagh".

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    After the bomb: RUC review

    Ombudsman's allegations
    The RUC's internal review of the inquiry made 274 recommendations. The ombudsman says that a critical intelligence chapter that highlighted "serious and fundamental errors" was not initially handed over.

    The ombudsman concluded that the investigation had been hampered by poor judgement and a lack or urgency at the very top of the police service.

    PSNI's rebuttal
    "Inevitably there have been errors", says the force, but it rejects the broad thrust of the ombudsman's report.

    The PSNI rejects suggestions that evidential opportunities were lost because intelligence was not immediately passed on.

    The force says that on 18 August 1998 senior Special Branch officers instructed all assistance to be given to the investigation. This followed initial arrests made two days after the bombing.

    Special Branch provided "important new intelligence" on 9 September, information that remains a main plank of the inquiry.

    Contrary to the ombudsman's allegation, the PSNI says that investigating officers were not denied access to surveillance videos of South Armagh.

    Turning to the scaling back of the inquiry, the chief constable says that the criticisms fail to take into account the fact that many of the officers were involved in a detailed examination of the scene and initial witness interviews.

    The PSNI rejects allegations that officers were reluctant to co-operate with the ombudsman's team.

    It says the initial failure to pass on the intelligence chapter to the investigators arose because of a "degree of confusion" and "a straightforward administrative misunderstanding".

    The ombudsman's allegation that her team discovered a further intelligence database "appears in fact to have been one of the standard features of the system to which they already had access".

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    Role of Special Branch

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

    It attacks Special Branch for not subjecting the Kevin Fulton allegations to rigorous analysis.

    The ombudsman said that 78% of the documents it found relevant to the inquiry had not been passed to the Omagh crime team and, furthermore, the department was "reluctant" to provide access to her team.

    PSNI's rebuttal
    Special Branch is "not a force within a force" working independently of the rest of the police service, the rebuttal says.

    But it insists that it needs to have safeguards in place to protect sensitive information because lives depend upon it doing so.

    Turning to the Kevin Fulton allegations, the PSNI says that Special Branch treated the information as it did any other of the 14,000 items of intelligence it received that year.

    In this case, it says, the information proved irrelevant to the Omagh bombing.

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    The recommendations

  • Ombudsman: An independent officer should head the Omagh bomb investigation
  • PSNI response: A senior detective from Merseyside Police has been appointed to act as an advisor to the senior investigating officer in the Omagh inquiry.
  • Ombudsman: An independent officer should investigate potentially linked terrorist incidents identified in the internal review
  • PSNI response: Some of the criticisms are invalid but the advice of the senior officer from Merseyside will be sought.
  • Ombudsman: Senior investigating officers should have appropriate access to all relevant intelligence held elsewhere. the relevance test being that of the officer.
  • PSNI response: Senior officers should be given appropriate access but the relevance test has practical difficulties.
  • Ombudsman: The Inspector of Constabularies should review how terrorist incidents are investigated, including the sharing of intelligence
  • PSNI response: Accepted
  • Ombudsman: There should be a further review of the workings of Special Branch
  • PSNI response: The recommendation is behind the progress made in reorganising Special Branch as part of policing reform.
  • Ombudsman: The new Police Service of Northern Ireland should adopt the murder review policy set out by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
  • PSNI response: Accepted in principle in April 2001, further work continuing.

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  • Click here for the full special report

    Ombudsman report

    Bomb trial verdict

    Archive - the blast:

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