Special branch withheld information from detectives investigating the Omagh bomb attack that killed 29 people in 1998, a report claims. The report published today says that whilst the information could not have prevented the attack it could have speeded up the investigation.
The Police Ombudsman said that vital resources were wasted because the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch did not circulate the list of phone numbers.
In the report, Dr Michael Maguire said: “The consequence was that the police investigation was required to invest substantial resources in analysing related records, resources that might well have been better utilised at that early stage of the inquiry.”
Although Maguire said the information should have been passed on he did accept that Special Branch had believed they go not legally do so. He said “The view held by the relevant police officers was a reasonable one in the circumstances.”
Dr Maguire said Special Branch had acted “cautiously” in not disclosing all the intelligence available to the investigators. He said: “I am satisfied this action was as a result of the interpretation by Special Branch of both what Sir Peter’s report called ‘the strict conditions imposed by GCHQ’ on the RUC and the legislative framework which prevailed at the time and which, for all intents and purposes, is still in place, albeit in a different legislative form.”
The Omagh bomb attack is accepted as one of the worst terrorist acts of the troubles. But despite its high profile, no one has ever been convicted of the murders. However a number of the victim’s families did sue five men from the Irish Republic who they say were responsible. Four of them were ordered to pay £1.5m in compensation.
The bomb was planted in a car parked on Omagh high street. The number of casualties was increased because the terrorists from the Real IRA phoned in an inaccurate warning 40 minutes before the bomb went off. This led police to clear the wrong part of town, whilst leaving people standing near the real bomb.