RUC chief threatens legal action over Omagh report

A hugely damning official report accused police in Northern Ireland yesterday of failing in their duties before and after the killing of 29 people in the 1998 Omagh bombing.

Its indictment was so withering that Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan threatened legal action and declared that if it were accurate "I would not only resign ­ I would go and publicly commit suicide".

The report, by Nuala O'Loan, the Northern Ireland police ombudsman, said that if officers had reacted properly to information received before the attack the bombers could have been deterred. A defective investigation meant the chances of convicting the bombers had been reduced.

Ms O'Loan declared: "The judgement and leadership of the Chief Constable has been seriously flawed. The victims, their families, the people of Omagh and officers of the RUC were let down by defective leadership, poor judgement and a lack of urgency." She added: "Twenty-nine people died in that bomb. It hasn't been investigated properly."

After the report was published, John Reid, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said he regretted the "acrimonious atmosphere".

Its publication came on the day the role of the RUC Special Branch was questioned once again by its critics. A former Special Branch agent, William Stobie, was shot dead outside his home in Belfast yesterday. Last month the trial of Stobie for the murder of Patrick Finucane, a solicitor, collapsed. A loyalist group admitted killing Stobie, but republicans and others claimed intelligence elements may have been involved.

The O'Loan report called for a fresh inquiry into the RUC's performance over the Omagh bombing, and in effect accused Sir Ronnie and the Special Branch of obstructing her investigation. In particular, she wants an investigation into the role of the Special Branch.

Ms O'Loan met relatives of the Omagh dead. Lawrence Rush, whose wife, Libby, died in the bombing, said: "There is absolutely no reason why Omagh should have happened. The police have been in dereliction of their duty." Kevin Skelton, who also lost his wife, said: "I feel absolutely betrayed."

Sir Ronnie said: "So gross is this that I have to say that legal advice is being taken both on a personal and an organisational basis. We're considering whether it may be appropriate to take legal remedy to have this report quashed."

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