Irish Republican News and Information, 10-12 December, 2001, http://irlnet.com/rmlist/
Victims stunned, Flanagan defiant after Omagh report
"I had been hoping it wasn't as bad as I thought. In fact, it was worse."
These are the words of Laurence Rushe, whose wife Libbie died in the Omagh bombing of 1998, commenting on a report into the RUC investigation and the role of the Special Branch before and after the killings following an investigation by the police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan.
"The parallels between my wife's murder and the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974 are obvious," Rushe told the media, "I believe the Special Branch of the RUC, together with other agents of the state, are trying to destroy any possibility of anyone being prosecuted for murdering my wife."
Recent revelations concerning the Omagh bombing have compounded the infamy of a force already discredited by allegations of collusion and cover up. Last month the failure and possible collusion of the RUC Special Branch in the killing of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane and their role in a subsequent cover up were highlighted during the ill-fated Stobie trial.
The trial collapsed but the spotlight on the Special Branch continued after a draft report by the police Ombudsman Nuala O Loan revealed the suspicious actions of the force in relation to another incident, the 1998 bombing in Omagh.
Relatives of the 29 people killed in the Omagh bombing gathered in a hotel in the town on Wednesday to hear police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan deliver her report.
In a statement O'Loan pointed out that despite a commitment in relation to the investigation by the Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan, that "no stone would be left unturned" to date no criminal charges have been brought against anyone in relation to the Omagh bombing.
In a direct criticism of Flanagan, the Ombudsman says, "this report is about a failure in leadership," and continues, "the victims, their families and the officers of the RUC have been let down by defective leadership, poor judgement and a lack of urgency."
Flanagan made an emotive appeal for people to ignore the report, declaring that if it were accurate "I would not only resign, I would go and publicly commit suicide". He threatened legal action to "quash" it.
Commenting Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone, Pat Doherty said that the people of Omagh would be greatly angered by the contents of the Ombudsman's report.
"The report is a damning indictment of the role the RUC Special Branch. They have for decades operated as a force within a force. The fact is that the Special Branch and those who ignored the warnings alerting them to an attack in Omagh are still in place. The failures identified by the Ombudsman in this report will happen again if radical changes are not made," said Doherty.
According to the report, the RUC Special Branch received warnings of the pending attack but as in the case of the Finucane shooting, the Branch chose to ignore the information and take no action to thwart the bombing.
RUC Superintendent James Baxter, the sub-divisional commander in Omagh on the day of the attack, was not made aware of warnings received prior to the bombing until almost two years later.
As in the Finucane case, even with the benefit of hindsight, the RUC Special Branch did not use the information available to them to prosecute arrests. William Stobie, an RUC agent within the UDA, named members of the loyalist gang who carried out the Finucane killing but they were not arrested.
During the subsequent investigation, in both the Finucane and Omagh case, the RUC Special Branch engaged in cover up. Vital evidence of the warnings received by Special Branch officers prior to the bombing 'disappeared' from Special Branch computers.
And would have remain 'lost' had it not been retrieved during the Ombudsman's probe into allegations of RUC incompetence in relation to the Omagh investigation. The probe criticises the RUC Special Branch for withholding potentially crucial intelligence from detectives tasked with investigating the bombing.
Recent revelations, which leave the Special Branch with a case to answer, include:
* A Special Branch agent known only as Kevin Fulton warned his handler that a named dissident was involved in preparing a device three days before the bombing.
* Fulton's warning was recorded into the RUC computers but it later 'disappeared' from the files.
* Fulton later taped a conversation in which his handler confirmed receiving the warning.
* After the taped conversation, RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan rang Fulton's Special Branch handler and reproached him for admitting that a warning had been received prior to the attack.
* Flanagan had previously stated publicly that there were no tip offs. "Any suggestion of a warning is an outrageous untruth," the Chief Constable had said. On July 30 he claimed suggestions that the RUC received advance warnings were "rubbish", "without foundation" and "irresponsible". "The RUC would not ever ignore intelligence about a bombing in order to protect any special branch interests," said Flanagan.
* A second anonymous warning, which was given to the RUC 11 days before the attack, gave specific details of a planned attack in Omagh on August 15, the day of the bombing.
* Information received by Special Branch was never passed to RUC officers on the ground in Omagh.
* The information was withheld from detectives investigating the bombing.
* A car used in the attack was 'lost' and 'missing' for two years before being 'discovered' in a forensic science car park.
* A senior RUC officer Brian McVicar, who conducted an internal probe was pressured to change his report when he criticised the RUC handling of the investigation.
* Over 250 recommendations made by McVicar were largely ignored.