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Anguish of Omagh bomb victims something I'll never forget, says author of new book on atrocity

By Rebecca Black

Published 21/09/2016

Breda Devine, 20 months
Breda Devine, 20 months
Esther Gibson
Spaniard Gonzalo Cavedo poses with a child on his shoulders beside the car carrying the bomb that seconds later killed 29 people, including the photographer
Elizabeth Rush
Olive Hawkes, aged 60
Julie Hughes, aged 21
Ann McCombe, aged 45
Mary Grimes, aged 65
Aiden Gallagher, aged 21
The bomb attack was the worst ever atrocity of Northern Ireland's decades of violence.
Brian McCrory, left, aged 54
Samantha McFarland, aged 17
Philomena Skelton, aged 39
Jolene Marlow, aged 17
The scene of the Omagh Bomb
Brenda Logue, aged 17
Alan Radford, aged 16
Bryan White, aged 27
Oran Doherty
Lorraine Wilson
Fred White
Veda Short
Geraldine Breslin
Deborah-Ann Cartwright
The scene of devastation in Omagh Town centre where upto 25 people have been killed in this afternoons blast. PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/08/98
Gareth Conway, Omagh bomb victim
James Baker, Omagh bomb victim
Several men have faced charges in connection with the attack, but nobody has ever been convicted of the murders
Cathy and Michael Gallagher, the sister and father of Omagh bomb victim, Aiden Gallagher.
PACEMAKER BFST 03-08-99: Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has a chat with Claire Gallagher, who lost her sight in the Omagh bomb, before yesterday's friendly against Omagh Town in aid of the Omagh Bomb Fund.
The happy couple — Ryan and Claire Bowse on their wedding day last year, nine years after Claire lost her sight due to injuries suffered in the Omagh bombing
The damage caused by the bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh, 1998
Donna Marie McGillion, who was seriously injured in the Omagh bombing
The secret email which shows intelligence bosses knew that Omagh was a prime target for a terrorist attack weeks before the car bomb that devastated the town
Claire Radford, whose brother Alan was killed in the Omagh bomb, examines a new stained-glass window in the town's library with her daughter Mia. The window was created in memory of the victims of the blast which killed 29 people and unborn twins.
Michael Gallagher whose son Aiden, 21, was killed in the Omagh bomb attack Pic Paul Faith
Michael Gallagher (right), whose son Aiden, 21, was killed in the Omagh bomb attack with Stanley McCombe who lost his wife Ann Pic Paul Faith

The impact of meeting the victims of the Omagh bomb "has never left me", former Policing Board chair Sir Desmond Rea revealed as he launched a new book on the atrocity.

Co-written with former PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde, Bear In Mind These Dead: The Omagh Bombing And Policing, aims to be a "thoughtful look" at the policing operation following the 1998 bomb which killed 29 people.

Both men played significant roles in the aftermath of the bombing.

However, no one has ever been brought to justice for the atrocity, although the victims' families won a civil action against four men.

Within the course of the book the authors examine "two searing questions (that) have bedevilled all discussion on the Omagh bombing" - whether any information or intelligence was available to the then RUC which could have prevented the bomb, and was the investigation following it as robust as it should have been.

The foreword to the book - the title of which is taken from John Hewitt's poem of the same name - warns that while direct answers to these questions are not supplied, the authors map out in detail the work of the PSNI and Policing Board.

It is the second book co-authored by Mr Rea, following Policing In Northern Ireland, Delivering The New Beginning, published in 2014.

Mr Rea told the Belfast Telegraph his memories of meeting victims of the Omagh bomb when he was chair of the Policing Board have never left him.

He said the 1998 bomb presented the PSNI with challenges of "considerable complexity".

Referring to his first book, Mr Rea said he identified the Omagh bomb investigation overview, the scrutinising of the current inquiry, the review of murder investigations in general, the management and dissemination of intelligence, the monitoring arrangements and communications with victims of the bombing as stories within themselves.

Sir Desmond Rea (right) and Sir Hugh Orde at the launch of their book
Sir Desmond Rea (right) and Sir Hugh Orde at the launch of their book

"In doing research for my first book, I was very aware of the sort of issues that were there and I knew they made a fascinating story," he said.

"It was important to bring Hugh Orde on board, because he brought the policing perspective."

He said he considered families, friends of those killed, as well as those who came to the rescue as victims, adding meeting the victims had moved him. "It has never left me - the meetings with the Omagh victims and self-help group," he said.

Dennis Bradley, former vice-chair of the Policing Board, and QC Sir Keir Starmer, were among those at the launch of the book last night in south Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph

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