Omagh report to accuse police of bungling inquiry

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The Independent Online

Further damaging revelations about the RUC and in particular its Special Branch will emerge on Wednesday when the Northern Ireland police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, publishes her report on the Omagh bombing.

Leaks from the draft report were revealed last week. While attention has so far concentrated on the question of warnings before the attack, the report is also understood to contain severe criticisms of the investigation into the bombing.

Some of the RUC's most senior officers come in for the strongest of criticisms in relation to an investigation that was said to be one of the largest and most thorough mounted by the force. The conclusion is that the investigation was essentially bungled. Although one individual is on trial in the Irish Republic on an Omagh-related offence, no one has been charged in Northern Ireland in connection with the bombing.

Meanwhile, in south Armagh, at least 19 police officers were injured yesterday in disturbances after a protest organised by Sinn Fein's youth wing. Petrol bombs were thrown at a police station and fireworks were also used. Two officers were taken to hospital by helicopter. The protest was part of a republican campaign for speedier demilitarisation moves in the area.

On Wednesday Mrs O'Loan will meet relatives of some of the 29 victims of the Omagh bomb before publishing her report. She turned down a request for a delay from Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), who has said that the report contains "significant factual inaccuracies, unwarranted assumptions, misunderstandings and material omissions".

The stances of the ombudsman and the Chief Constable mean that the report's findings and its presentation of the facts will be hotly contested. Supporters of the police have already launched strong attacks on Mrs O'Loan and elements of media coverage of the controversy. One Unionist politician described her as having the sensitivity of a suicide bomber.

Political and other elements, including sections of the media, have lined up for and against the police in a dispute that the authorities are viewing with dismay. The taking of sides means that the credibility of either Sir Ronnie or Mrs O'Loan will inevitably suffer in the continuing dispute.

The RUC's recent refashioning as the PSNI, and the appointment of a new police board to oversee the force, were supposed to be signs of a new beginning in policing. Instead the Omagh dispute, following on from other controversies such as the killing of the solicitor Patrick Finucane, has sharpened divisions over policing.

Superintendent James Baxter, the police divisional commander in Omagh, met Omagh relatives yesterday, offering to apply for a transfer if they wished. He added: "I will happily go anywhere else, if the families have no confidence in me."

Relatives said that none of their number thought the officer should move. Michael Gallagher, who lost his son in the attack, said: "Certainly no one said they wanted his resignation and, in fact, many if us said we were happy with him.

"We are certainly not attacking the police. The people on the ground in Omagh worked to the best of their ability on that day."

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