RUC admits serious blunder over Enniskillen hotel bomb

Click to follow
The Royal Ulster Constabulary has admitted to a catastrophic blunder in failing to monitor the movements of a jeep later used in last Saturday's bombing of the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen despite a tip-off from gardai in the Irish Republic.

The silver Isuzu Trooper jeep, stolen in Dublin on 3 July, was stopped at a garda checkpoint at midnight on 4 July near Redhills in County Cavan. When the driver was asked to produce insurance and identification he drove off at speed.

The RUC were quickly warned to watch for the vehicle. Three days later they spotted it near Newtownbutler in Fermanagh, and after consultation with gardai it emerged it was carrying false number plates from a similar vehicle.

But RUC officers then left the jeep unattended, and when they returned to the scene it had disappeared.

It was later packed with more than 1,000lbs of home-made explosives by the bombers. Garda intelligence experts believe the bombers were members or supporters of Republican Sinn Fein, a splinter group which split off from the Provisional Sinn Fein and IRA in 1986. The IRA itself has denied responsibility.

In a statement, the RUC confirmed the jeep crossed the border and was left 500 metres inside Fermanagh: "Due to the dangers represented by its location, its proximity to the border and the possibility of terrorist attack, the vehicle could not be recovered before it was driven off." The RUC is continuing to appeal for information on the jeep's movements prior to the bombing.

The explosion injured 17 people, including members of a wedding party who had to be treated for shock, and destroyed much of the recently-refurbished hotel.

Liz O'Donnell, justice spokeswoman of the Irish Opposition Progressive Democrats said: "There will have to be questions asked at the most senior level. There has obviously been a lapse... Clearly, from their own security point of view, if a suspect vehicle is pointed out it should be followed up."

Irish justice minister Nora Owen said the matter was being raised at yesterday's Anglo-Irish Conference in Dublin. She added that the Garda Siochana and the RUC had a good working relationship in exchange of information.

Meanwhile, talks aimed at patching up differences over violent clashes in Northern Ireland ended last night with a show of unity. But ministers failed to conceal the depth of the anger in Dublin at the U-turn which allowed Orangemen to march at Drumcree, sparking riots across Ulster.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, held separate press conferences after five hours of talks, underlining the low ebb reached in relations between the two governments.

Sir Patrick said he hoped the meeting had cleared the air but after the Prime Minister told MPs he wanted to accelerate all-party talks there was little evidence of progress last night.