Northern Ireland's police chief presented a detailed defence to allegations that his force's Special Branch had failed to pass on information that might have prevented the 1998 Omagh bombing.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the Chief Constable of the renamed Police Service of Northern Ireland, insisted that a warning received 11 days before the bombing, which killed 29 people, had been unrelated. The allegation that the Special Branch had failed to stop the attack had been highlighted by Nuala O'Loan, the police ombudsman, in a report leaked to the media on Thursday.
The Ulster Unionist peer Lord Maginnis fiercely criticised Mrs O'Loan, saying she had no experience of policing and accusing her of walking through "police interests and community interests like a suicide bomber".
The Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty, however,called for the Special Branch to be disbanded. "Special Branch had this information and refused to pass it on for their own militaristic reasons," he said.
John Reid, the Northern Ireland Secretary said some were using the issue as a political football and described media speculation as grossly unfair to the families of victims.
Sir Ronnie said that an anonymous caller had rung the police on 4 August warning of a delivery of AK47 rifles and rocket launchers to the Continuity IRA in preparation for an attack on the police on 15 August.
"Even if action had been taken, it would not ... remotely have led to interception of a bomb that was en route to Omagh," he said. "I have no doubt whatsoever that this call had absolutely nothing to do with the attack."
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