A damning report concluded yesterday that Norwegian police could have prevented mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik's devastating Oslo bomb attack in 2011 and that his subsequent slaughter of young people on Utoya island could have been halted earlier if officers had acted properly.
The findings were the results of independent inquiry into Norway's worst act of violence since the Second World War. Seventy-seven people, most of them young, were killed and more than 240 others were wounded in Breivik's twin attacks on 22 July last year.
In the aftermath, police were criticised for bungling their attempt to rescue victims and for not acting fast enough. However, yesterday's report amounted to a conclusive and withering indictment of police failure.
The inquiry headed by lawyer Alexandra Bech Gjoerv produced a 482-page report which found that Breivik's bomb attack on Oslo's government complex "could have been prevented by effective implementation of security measures that were already in place".
A pedestrian called police 10 minutes after Breivik detonated his Oslo bomb and provided a good description of his appearance, but the tip-off was not followed up for two hours.
Although it was clear that a major terrorist attack was under way, police failed to issue a nationwide alert. No roadblocks or observation posts were set up and there was no attempt made to mobilise police helicopters. The police command centre responsible for tracking down Breivik refused offers of help from neighbouring police districts.
After detonating the bomb in Oslo, Breivik made his way to a Norwegian Labour Party youth camp on the fjord island of Utoya, north-west of the capital. Dressed as a policeman and equipped with an automatic rifle, he systematically shot dead 68 people. Many were killed in the water as they tried to swim away.
Afterwards, police were criticised for bungling their attempt to reach the island by an inflatable police boat. The report found that the two officers involved did not try to find an alternative civilian boat immediately. Although the island lies only some 300 yards offshore, the report concluded "it took police an unacceptable 35 minutes to get to the island".An 11-strong elite police commando unit from Oslo arrived 14 minutes later.
However, the commandos were forced to abandon their own overloaded dinghy for two civilian boats and their attempt to reach the island was delayed even further.
Breivik's trial on charges of mass murder ended in June this year and a verdict is expected on 24 August. Judges are to decide whether he is sane or mentally ill. The self-proclaimed far-right killer has said that his attacks were part of an anti-Islamic crusade and an attempt to stop Muslims taking over Norway.
Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg refused to join in criticism of the police yesterday. He said the inquiry could not change what happened but added: "It is important because it gives us an understanding of what happened."