A secret briefing paper drawn up by the Army has criticised the police force for its “slower than expected” response to the Palace Barracks bombing.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the document, circulated to Army personnel within hours of the explosion at MI5 headquarters in Holywood, also raises concerns about the PSNI for being hesitant to evacuate “civilian accommodation” at the military basis.
The revelations will place the police under further scrutiny following Chief Constable Matt Baggott’s admission that he regretted his force’s slow response to the later bombing at Newtownhamilton last week.
Police didn’t arrive until 10 minutes after the bomb went off leaving residents of the south Armagh town to accuse officers of abandoning them.
Although the briefing paper seen by the Telegraph on the April 11 Holywood bomb is couched in military terms, it does suggest frustration at the PSNI response to the bombing and calls for a thorough review.
The document also states that the alarm was raised just before midnight by a taxi driver forced to transport the bomb to the security base.
The bomb exploded 37 minutes later as Army experts were trying to deal with it, slightly injuring one man.
The document seen by the Belfast Telegraph states: “PSNI arrived shortly after the explosion and set up a cordon outside the camp perimeter on Old Holywood Road as well as starting to clear the civilian housing estates and areas of Redburn Country Park within the cordon.”
That sentence suggests this would be close to 40 minutes after the alarm was raised and both the Army and police were called.
The PSNI refused to comment, but a security source insisted that officers had arrived on the scene 13 minutes after the alarm was raised.
Dissident republicans deliberately timed the attack to coincide with the transfer of policing and justice powers to Stormont.
The Belfast Telegraph understands that just 48 hours earlier there was an intelligence warning which pointed to an “increased threat”.
Another warning was issued prior to the bomb at Newtownhamilton PSNI base — warnings that demonstrate the serious gaps in intelligence.
The critical missing information is the when and where.
That Army briefing, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, praises Army technical officers, explaining how bomb experts “on scene extremely quickly” at Palace Barracks tried to “protect forensics by disrupting the device”.
There is also praise for the Northern Ireland Security and Guard Service — the document stating their response was “quick and effective and saved lived”.
But the restricted paper suggests frustration at the PSNI response.
- It cannot be assumed that the PSNI will be au fait with post incident procedures — regular briefings and updates with all agencies are essential periodically throughout the incident;
- The PSNI response was slower than expected, and there was a hesitancy to clear civilian accommodation;
- Police search teams take a long time to arrive on scene and cannot conduct their business effectively in darkness.
Elsewhere in the document — under a heading: What should be changed? — the following recommendation is made:
“A comprehensive engagement plan with PSNI must be established to improve procedures.”
It says joint exercises must be conducted, and that this should happen immediately.
A PSNI spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate for police to comment on a leaked document which purports to originate from another agency.”
Police publicly criticised for what was considered a slow response to the Newtownhamilton bomb last week, are privately criticised in this restricted security document — a briefing that relates specifically to the Palace Barracks attack.
With increasing dissident republican activity, there is more of a focus on the performance of the security forces, with some asking is new policing equipped to deal with this threat.
Today the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) will finalise its latest report on the dissident republican threat – an assessment that will be published soon after next week’s General Election.