Police tell of Omagh bomb horror

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The Independent Online

Police officers today described the devastating injuries caused to shoppers and traders by the bomb detonated in Omagh, Co. Tyrone by the Real IRA in August 1998.

Police officers today described the devastating injuries caused to shoppers and traders by the bomb detonated in Omagh, Co. Tyrone by the Real IRA in August 1998.

One of the officers who gave evidence to the inquest into the deaths of 29 people killed in the blast was a young man who had left the Royal Ulster Constabulary training college just 12 wqeeks earlier.

Constable Gary McClatchey had been evacuating people from shops and the High Street area in the town and had been ordered to set up a cordon down a side street when the bomb exploded.

Constable McClatchey, his voice often breaking with emotion, recalled: "I heard a loud dull thud. Shop shutters rattled and glass shattered.

"I knew immediately it was Market Street where I had ushered people to go. I could see a plume of smoke."

He ran to the scene, he said, adding: "Men and women were crying, soaked in blood, calling out to me."

He passed a supermarket and "felt very warm air which was dusty hit me".

He went on down the street, he said, adding: "I saw a male person lying face-up in the middle of the road. He had ginger short hair, and appeared dead and had serious facial injuries.

"I saw a burning engine block and ran to it and saw a young girl with long hair trapped under it."

The girl was later identified as Pauline Green, who survived the bombing, he went on.

The street was strewn with injured people, some sitting, some lying - among them was a woman whose right leg was badly injured, he said.

Constable McClatchey said he tended a young girl outside a shop.

"She was lying under rubble and with the help of Constable Palmer, I dug her out. She was alive but unconscious. I gave her first aid as best I could and opened her air way and made her comfortable.

"She had a very weak pulse, there was a lot of blood coming from her side and the top of her head . Her head injury appeared very serious."

He said he and the other officer lifted the girl on to a door and carried her to an armoured police car, which took her to hospital.

The policeman said the injured girl was later identified to him as Debra Ann Cartwright, one of the 29 who died in the Real IRA 500lb bomb blast.

Constable McClatchey said he saw four or five bodies with "horrific injuries" in front of a shop and "several more bodies in a crater which was filled with water".

Coroner John Leckey commented as he thanked Constable McClatchey for his evidence: "A baptism of fire with a vengeance."

The officer replied: "It would be."

Later Constable James Morrell told how he tended some of the wounded and dying, among them a boy who could only say: "I Spanish, I Spanish" when asked his name.

Two Spaniards - a woman and a boy - among a school exchange programme party were among the 29 dead, but the constable said he did not know if the boy he encountered was Fernando Baselga, the 12 year-old from Madrid who was killed that day.

The young casualty, who was lying in the middle of the road had puncture wounds to his stomach, burns to his head and his hair on the right side, was badly injured, the officer told the court.

He said he applied a field dressing to the wound and asked two uninjured civilians to stay with the boy and maintain pressure.

He also gave first aid to a young woman in the middle of the wreckage of the car with "severe injuries to her right leg".

He said: "I asked her name but she did not answer."

He told how he ran out of dressings and went back up the street to Boots the chemist where he took several packs of nappies from the shelves to use.

Constable Morrell was close to tears when he described lifting bodies onto stretchers, including those of a woman and a small child.

The list of dead at Omagh included seven months pregnant Avril Monaghan and her toddler daughter, Maura, 18 months.

Constable Morrell also helped stretcher away the bodies of a man from the street and a woman from the Pine Emporium shop. The shop's owner Libby Rush died in the blast.

Earlier he told how he was manning a checkpoint on George Street on the periphery of the town centre at the far side of the scene of the bombing when he heard "a loud explosion from the town centre and knew it was the Market Street area".

Over his radio he heard police at the bomb scene ... "all I heard was casualties and screaming".

The officer who was closest to the scene of the blast when the bomb went off, Constable Tara McBurney, was not in court to testify.

"There is a medical report indicating that the evidence of Constable McBurney would be detrimental to her psychological health," said Gemma Loughran, counsel to the coroner.

Constable McBurney remained under medical care which would continue for "a substantial period of time".

The officer's statement was read to the court, recounting how she was involved in moving people off High Street towards Market Street.

Constable McBurney's account said she and a colleague, Constable Alan Palmer, set up a moving cordon and "worked down Market Street, clearing premises as we went, moving people along with the tape.

"People in general were very reluctant to move and I had to constantly push and shove them physically to keep them moving away from the courthouse," the statement said.

"I was outside the Spick and Span shop when I heard a loud explosion. I felt a strong wind and my breath was taken away for about five seconds. I felt debris flying past my body, clipping me as it went.

"I opened my eyes and realised that a bomb had exploded and we had walked into it.

"I realised that my ears had been affected by the blast and held them."

Constable McBurney said she looked down the street for a colleague and saw him "standing ... surrounded by dead bodies and body parts. Everybody was screaming and hysterical and covered in blood".

A screaming girl then pointed out a woman beside her - later identified as one of the injured, Wendy Edgar.

The statement continued: "I saw that the girl had a piece of mangled and twisted metal about five inches long protruding from her chest."

The inquest continues.