David McKittrick: Questions remain about intelligence before and after this shocking attack

Share
Related Topics

The Omagh bombing seemed to be an incident which was as straightfoward as it was callous: a 500lb Real IRA car-bomb, placed in a market town on a busy Saturday afternoon, was detonated after a misleading warning.

The initial shock and horror at the multiple murders gave way to other emotions which included sympathy but also a determination to bring those responsible to justice. The authorities vowed that this would be done, but as time went on most of the legal sequels failed to produce convictions. It is technically possible that more prosecutions might be brought, but police admit that this becomes increasingly unlikely as time passes.

As the years went by many wondered about the performance of the security forces and in particular the intelligence agencies, both before and after the attack. It emerged that many of those involved were known to the police and some were under a degree of surveillance.

The answer to the biggest question of all – whether the attack might possibly have been intercepted and prevented – remains unclear.

The BBC Panorama programme on the incident did not claim that the bombing was preventable. Instead, it said that during the bomb run, from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland, the mobile phones of some of the bombers were monitored by GCHQ, the Cheltenham-based electronic surveillance agency. It asserts that detectives investigating the murders were never told about the fact that interception had taken place and had never been provided with the intercepted telephone numbers used by some of those involved in the bombing.

In his report on the issues raised by Panorama, Sir Peter Gibson refrained from explicitly confirming or denying this. He conceded that the RUC's Special Branch shared intelligence with the force's CID in a "cautious way" but added that he did not investigate why this was so. Sir Peter made no criticism of GCHQ for not passing on telephone numbers to the CID.

The Panorama thesis was that the investigation into the Omagh bomb was hampered, perhaps fatally, by a reluctance to share information and that the opportunity to make early arrests and raids was lost.

According to a senior police officer quoted by the BBC, this assertion, if true, "effectively sabotaged the investigation through the starvation of essential intelligence". Early information would have given an immediate chance "for executive police action to bring the culprits to justice, to search their homes and to recover vital evidence. This opportunity did not arise for many weeks and, in the case of two key witnesses, nine months".

In its report yesterday the Northern Ireland Committee concluded that questions remain about whether the bombing could have been pre-empted and called for a new investigation into whether intelligence on suspects was passed on to investigating detectives. It sought reconsideration of how any intercept intelligence was or was not used. The committee also questioned whether the names of suspects were known "in the days immediately after the bombing, and if so, why no arrests resulted".

Sir Peter, in his report, had no real criticism to make of the various links in the intelligence chain, either singly or collectively. But the Northern Ireland Committee, far from being reassured, has concluded that in his findings many crucial questions remain unanswered.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch