Peadar Heffron bomb attack failings: Officers to be disciplined for failing to pass on information to detectives
Four police intelligence officers are to be disciplined for failing to pass on details about a bomb attack on colleague Constable Peadar Heffron.
Constable Heffron, a Catholic Gaelic speaker and captain of the PSNI's Gaelic football team, lost a leg when the under-car device was detonated by dissident republicans near Randalstown, Co Antrim, five years ago.
Even though there was insufficient evidence to support an allegation that the attack could have been prevented, Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said there was a failure to help investigating detectives.
Four officers - two detective superintendents and two detective sergeants - from the PSNI's C3 unit will be disciplined.
"Policy requires that investigators are provided with intelligence at the earliest opportunity. This case demonstrates shortcoming in this regard," he said.
The Ombudsman's investigation was launched after a complaint from a man who claimed police had been warned of the likelihood of an attack at "Milltown" several weeks earlier.
Investigators spoke with the informant, who said he had passed the message to police before deleting it. To the best of his memory, he claimed it read: "Attack on police officers - Milltown - urgent". Although he believed the "Milltown" mentioned in the text was in west Belfast, he did not specify this to police.
The informant alleged that following the attack on Constable Heffron, police revealed to him they had "missed out on Randalstown" when checking areas known as Milltown.
But Police Ombudsman investigators also spoke to the officer responsible for handling the intelligence, who said the text specified the area of Belfast.
The Ombudsman concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, police were told the impending attack was in Belfast.
During the course of their investigation, Ombudsman staff also became concerned that detectives were not getting the help they needed from the PSNI's C3 intelligence branch.
A number of senior police officers in the unit were interviewed, and two said they had supplied information within weeks of the attack. Another merely said he believed information had been provided.
Dr Maguire said C3 had been unable to provide proof that detectives had received requested information, and he concluded there had been an unacceptable delay of more than two years.
Anne Connolly, chair of the Policing Board, described the report as "disturbing reading". "There are serious questions arising from the conclusions that the board will want to discuss with the chief constable," she said.
Chief constable George Hamilton and his deputy Drew Harris are expected to be questioned about the Ombudsman's findings at a specially convened Policing Board meeting next week.
PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris, said he welcomed "the ombudsman's conclusion that a complaint which alleged police had been provided with information which, if acted upon, could have prevented the attack on Constable Heffron, is not substantiated".
"In relation to an additional conclusion that officers in Intelligence Branch did not supply investigating detectives from Serious Crime Branch with the information they sought, the Police Service view is that this line of enquiry was pursued and belatedly closed down but that it was not directly related to the attempted murder of Constable Heffron," he added.
"However, the Police Service is receptive to any learning which can be gleaned from such reports.
"There was an administrative failing in this case in which the line of enquiry was not processed as quickly as it should have been. This issue has been addressed and resolved by a number of measures including the establishment of secure means of passing material from Intelligence Branch to Serious Crime Branch.
"It is our view that all credible lines of enquiry in this investigation, which is still open, have been pursued. I would continue to appeal for anyone with information about the bomb attack in Randalstown on 8 January 2010 to come forward."
He said he agreed there was a "requirement for disciplinary sanctions in this case".
"Having reviewed the full circumstances of this investigation, I decided on an appropriate sanction for each of the detective superintendents," he said.
"Disciplinary sanctions in respect of the detective sergeants are currently being considered."
SDLP Policing Board Member Dolores Kelly MLA said: "This report details consistently shocking and disturbing deficiencies within the handling of intelligence relating to this appalling crime. A litany of senior officers within the PSNI C3 intelligence unit wilfully ignored repeated requests for intelligence from officers investigating the attempted murder of Mr Heffron.
"It was not some short delay or oversight, this dereliction of responsibility went on for 28 months. That is an appalling and gross abdication of responsibility to a victim and a colleague. It was only after C3 officers were aware that the Ombudsman had launched an investigation that they made intelligence available.
"If this is the standard of service that the C3 unit and its officers provided when investigating the attempted murder of a colleague, how can the public have any confidence in their investigation of other matters?
"Distinct from the disturbing details of the flawed handling of intelligence, the report also raises serious issues about a decision by senior officers to downgrade the level of sanction applied to officers relating to their misconduct in this affair. The Police Ombudsman is an independent office and any move to reduce sanctions for such serious misconduct must be explained.
"The Chief Constable will have very serious questions to answer when he appears before a special meeting of the Policing Board on Tuesday."