Irish Echo

Did cop give Omagh tip-off?

By Anne Cadwallader

The Aug. 15 Real IRA bombing in Omagh claimed 29 lives.

BELFAST -- In a new twist to the continuing saga of the police inquiry into the Omagh bombing, it's been revealed that the chief suspect for making an anonymous call to police shortly before the attack is another police officer. The former special branch officer is to be questioned on whether he was the source of an anonymous tip about paramilitary activity in Omagh, just days before the devastating bombing.

The phone call, taken by a detective in Omagh, was made on Aug. 4, 1998, 11 days before the Real IRA bombing, in which 29 people were killed. The information passed over in the call was never passed on to police on the ground. The suspect officer is to be asked if he made the call, and if he did, why?

He has already been questioned about other matters unconnected with the Omagh investigation, and although not suspended he has been relieved of special branch duties. The source of the telephone call has never been traced.

The male caller, speaking to a detective constable, named two men who he claimed would be bringing four dismantled AK 47 rifles and two rocket launchers across the Irish border.

The caller told police they belonged to the Continuity IRA, another dissident republican group, and that they would be used in an attack on police in Omagh on Aug. 15.

At the time, the police officer who took the call believed it to be genuine and briefed the senior detective on duty before traveling to Enniskillen, where he passed the information to special branch officers.

They, however, allegedly told him there was nothing new in the information and that the two men named were ordinary criminals. The call and the text of the information was never registered on the database set up for the police investigation.

It wasn't until two years later, during an internal review of the inquiry by the RUC, that officers in Omagh became aware it had been made.

More than ix years after the atrocity, and with nobody yet charged with the murders, the disclosure that officers are to question one of their own men for allegedly making an anonymous telephone call predicting the attack is leading to renewed pressure for a public inquiry.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was among the dead, said he was stunned by the revelation.

"It's devastating," he said. "That call was always a concern to the families and we are still awaiting answers. It seems to me to be the final straw in a long line of discrepancies."

Godfrey Wilson, whose daughter Lorraine, 15, died in the car bombing, said: "This investigation has been going on for over six years, a crazy length of time. How much longer do we have to wait to get justice?"

The trial of County Armagh man Sean Hoey, 34, who is facing charges involving explosives, and members of the Real IRA, which carried out the bombing, has yet to begin. One of the charges against Hoey involves possession of a timer power unit between March 1997 and Aug. 16, 1998, the day after the Omagh bombing.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission chief, Brice Dickson, has been refused a meeting with police to discuss their investigation. Relatives have hit out at the decision to turn down Dickson's request for talks.

"The investigation team should be willing to meet with anyone who is looking for justice and who wants to safeguard the rights of innocent victims," Wilson said. "It seems to me that a cat and mouse game is being played out and it is taking a terrible toll on people's emotions."

This story appeared in the issue of December 29, 2004- January 4, 2005

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