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PSNI officers who failed to tell target of bomb threat reprimanded

By Deborah McAleese

Published 11/12/2015

Concern: Michael Maguire
Concern: Michael Maguire

Three police officers have been disciplined for failing to warn the target of an imminent bomb attack.

In a highly critical report, the Police Ombudsman said it was fortunate that nobody was killed because of a number of police errors that led to a failure to identify and warn the target of the 2014 attack.

Officers discovered the explosive device an hour after a bomb warning. Luckily, the bomb failed to detonate.

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire told how the incident caused him "some considerable concern."

An investigation by his office into the incident found that after receiving information about the bomb, police "failed to make proper enquiries, identified the wrong target and location and warned the wrong person".

The bomb warning was received by an external organisation, which then tried to contact police through established channels but was unable to get through. The call was instead transferred to a lower ranking officer.

He made enquiries to identify the target and location for the attack. However, Dr Maguire said an examination of police records and computer systems showed that these enquiries had been "inadequate".

He said that as a result, the wrong target and location was identified and inaccurate information was passed to a police duty inspector.

The investigation also established that the designated police phone number called by the external organisation had been temporarily unmanned at the time of the call.

Two supervisory officers later admitted that they had failed to arrange proper cover to ensure the phone would be answered.

"The outcome of this incident could have been very much more serious. The targets of this attack were, in effect, failed by the police," said Dr Maguire.

"I have recommended that police put in place, as a matter of urgency, measures to prevent a recurrence."

The Police Ombudsman recommended disciplinary action against the three officers involved. However, the sanctions imposed by the PSNI on the supervisory officers were at a lower level than that recommended by the watchdog.

Last year, the Police Ombudsman received more than 3,300 complaints. On 380 occasions, it was recommended that an officer be disciplined or receive additional training or supervision - a 66% increase from the previous year.

The Police Federation, the body that represents rank and file officers, warned that many officers felt there was a witch-hunt against them by the Police Ombudsman.

Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said society needs to understand "the enormous pressures" officers are under "as they deliver professional policing without fear or favour."

He added that the Police Ombudsman must show common sense and objectivity as officers "work in an exceptional environment with unprecedented scrutiny and oversight, but still manage to deliver an exceptional service".

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