My Week: Seven Days In The Life Of Omagh Policeman Derek Elliott

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The Independent Culture
PC DEREK Elliott was one of the first police officers to arrive at the horrific scene of the Omagh bombing. Mr Elliott has been a part or full time officer for 16 years, and sees himself as a community policeman. He is 36 years old, married, with sons aged 12 and 10 and a girl, aged six.

Saturday

8am, Fintona Police Station. I started my shift at Fintona, about seven miles from Omagh, and part of the sub-division. I opened up the station and got on with routine police work. The first bomb warning was at around 2.30pm, and after 3pm we were told to proceed to Omagh. Then the line went mad. We were trying to get details of what had happened from the officers at the scene, but all we could hear was: "Casualties, casualties."

I drove seven miles in about six minutes. When we got there it was carnage. I have been to bomb scenes before, once where two soldiers were killed, but what I saw at Omagh was the most appalling, most shocking thing I have ever seen. There were bodies lying everywhere, people crying, and all I could see through the dust was blood and bodies. I grabbed my first aid kit and threw my gun belt into the car boot because it gets in the way when you're trying to work with injured people. One of the first casualties I came across was a woman who was being lifted on to a stretcher but her leg stayed on the ground. I saw it was just held together by skin and tissue. I asked a member of the public, to pick it up, but he just shook his head and said: "I can't, I can't." So I did it myself.

When we started to treat the injured someone gave me a box of Pampers nappies, and I started using them rather than the stuff from the first aid kit because it was quicker - there was no time even to tear the wraps from the first aid kit because the injuries were so bad, so deep and there was so much blood. The worst, the very worst, was when the kids kept coming before us. I knew one of them, a young girl, but I refused to let my mind recognise her, I had to detach myself.

The public were terrific, and we organised a makeshift mortuary in an alleyway, and then we turned two shops into a bigger mortuary. We had to use pub tables, shelving and doors as stretchers, and private cars and buses as ambulances. All the time I was trying to shut the screaming from my head.

At 6pm we went to the mortuary in the Army Camp. At that stage we had 20 bodies and an arm. We worked there until 12.30am before going to Omagh Police Station to stand down. It was not until 2am that I got home. I hugged my wife and my three kids, had a beer, cried a little, and collapsed into bed.

Sunday

At Omagh Police Station at 8am. I know this station quite well, I was based here in 1993 when it got blown up. I put my notes together and then had to go and see the investigating team. Our evidence would be needed for any future prosecution, and also the inquests. I talked to the team and felt relieved at being able to unburden myself. I began to realise why people go to psychologists to talk. I got home at about 10pm, exhausted, fell asleep.

Monday

8am Omagh Police Station. We were told that a VIP would be meeting us, we were told to put on our full dress uniform and go to the Lisanelly Barracks, and so we did. We got there at 2.30pm and we were told we would be meeting the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam. We waited for four hours, and she did not turn up. We felt, how can I put this, disappointed by the whole thing. There was so much to do, and we didn't have four hours to waste. At 6pm we went to the mortuary to work. There were bodies being moved. One of the guys who had been working all day said in the evening they'd had nothing to eat. Being a local man I knew a few people so I organised some food and got them some water for washing. I thought again about the four hours wasted. Got stood down at midnight.

Tuesday

8am Omagh. Told again to dress up and go to the Army Camp for a VIP, so we all sighed and did so. It was Prince Charles, and I was most impressed with him. He showed concern and genuine interest in what people had been doing on Saturday. He was very polite to everyone and took longer speaking to us than he needed to.

Wednesday

A very sad day of funerals. One in the morning, of a young girl called Jolene Marlowe and one in the afternoon of Veda Shortt, who is the sister- in-law of one of my colleagues. There was not an awful lot for us to do, the mourners seemed to do the organising themselves. Everyone behaved impeccably, including the Press. There was no hassle, no animosity, just an awful lot of sadness.

Thursday

We were asked if we would like to speak to the media, some refused, a few, including myself, agreed. As far as I am concerned I can't stress enough that I'm representing my fellow officers who had worked ever so hard for these last few days, I am very proud of them. I have done nothing special myself. My wife was worried about my identity coming out but I reassured her. I could relax for the first time in days, and had a quiet drink after work with some colleagues.

Friday

Day off. I took my family to do what a lot of those bomb victims were doing that day, shopping for school uniforms for the children. We went to Enniskillen, which of course, had its own bomb in the past.

On Saturday we shall be at a special service in the town to remember our dead. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are both Catholics. I was born and brought up in Omagh, and I am proud to be an Omagh man. I'm proud of the fact that in this town Protestants and Catholics live and work together, and there is a lot of inter-marriage. The bombers, whether they are republican or loyalist, will never be able to divide us.

Interview by Kim Sengupta

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