Bomb warning calls played to inquest

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Recordings of two women making warning calls to police before the Omagh bomb went off were played today to the inquest into the deaths of 29 people in the blast.

Recordings of two women making warning calls to police before the Omagh bomb went off were played today to the inquest into the deaths of 29 people in the blast.

Coroner John Leckey heard the tapes of 999 calls made by an Ulster Television newsroom assistant and a Samaritans volunteer on August 15 1998 before the blast killed 29 people, including a woman heavily pregnant with twins.

The inquest, sitting in Omagh Leisure complex, Co Tyrone, has already heard that three calls were made at about 2.30pm that day.

The bomb, claimed by dissident republican terrorists the Real IRA, exploded at 3.10pm.

The first tape played was of the exchanges between UTV newsroom assistant Maggie Hall and Constable George Mullan on the RUC emergency switchboard in Belfast, passing on the first of two messages she received from an anonymous male caller.

She was heard saying: "I'm only after getting a call from a man with a country accent, saying there's a bomb in Omagh main street near the court house, a 500lb bomb. It's going to go off in 30 minutes."

Ms Hall was also heard giving the officer the codeword given to her, "Malta Pope", during her call, logged at 2.30pm

The tape of a Samaritan, identified to the court as "Hilary Unknown" to protect her anonymity, was made to Constable Gary Murphy who was staffing the Coleraine emergency lines, with the time logged as 2.34pm.

She could be heard saying: "I have received a bomb call for Omagh town centre approximately 200 yards from the courthouse and the code word Marta Pope was given."

The court later heard from a mapping expert that the bomb crater was between 39 and 40 yards beyond the cordon put in place by police before the blast.

The roof of the car holding the bomb was blown 71 yards away on to the roof of a two-storey building, John Kevin Edgar also told the hearing.

Meanwhile, relatives for one of the Omagh dead today challenged the intense questioning of RUC officers at the inquest into the tragedy.

A lawyer for the family of RUC officer's daughter Deborah Ann Cartwright, 20, told day two of the hearing that his clients were unhappy with the approach being taken by legal representatives of other relatives.

They wanted the officers' testimonies to be postponed until legal reprentatives from their union, the Police Federation, arrived, said solicitor Ken Duncan.

However coroner John Leckey said he had no objections to the line of questioning taking place and allowed it to go ahead.

Earlier Mr Leckey was told that a legal team acting for individual officers through the Federation was on its way.

Police officers involved in relaying warnings have been closely questioned about how they took down and passed the messages on.

Today Constable Gary Murphy, the 999 operative who took a warning from a volunteer Samaritan, identified only as "Hilary Unknown", told how he phoned the communications room of Omagh RUC station and then logged it on to the police Atlas computer network.

The court heard a recording of the volunteer, telling Constable Murphy: "I have received a bomb call for Omagh town centre approximately 200 yards from the courthouse ..."

In the event, the bomb exploded 380 yards from the court building, killing 29 people, including a woman in the final stages of her pregnancy carrying twins.

Logged into the network were the words "... near the Courthouse (200yds) ..."

Barry Fox, acting for the next-of-kin of Esther Gibson, Avril Monaghan and Maura Monaghan, said: "I am suggesting to you that there is a difference between the words from and near."

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