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RUC had no prior knowledge of Shankill bomb, insists ex-Special Branch officer

By Deborah McAleese

Published 08/02/2016

The scene of the Shankill bombing in 1993
The scene of the Shankill bombing in 1993
Shankill bomb atrocity
Desmond Frizzell was killed in the Shankill Road bombing
Shankill bomb atrocity
Thomas Begley, the IRA bomber who blew himself up in the Shankill bomb in 1993.
Shankill bomb atrocity
Rescuers at the Shankill bombing
The devastation on the Shankill Road in the aftermath of the 1993 IRA bombing of Frizzell’s fish shop
Schoolchildren lay flowers in the Shankill Remembrance Garden

A senior Special Branch officer at the time of the Shankill bomb has rubbished claims that police had been tipped off prior to the attack.

Jim Gamble is the first RUC Special Branch officer active at the time of the atrocity to speak out and publicly defend the police investigation.

Mr Gamble, who later became regional head of Special Branch in Belfast, insisted that police had no prior knowledge of the 1993 bomb that killed 10 people, including an IRA bomber.

He also revealed that his father-in-law's shop, which was next door to the fish shop where the bomb exploded, was destroyed in the blast.

Mr Gamble's comments come as families whose loved ones were murdered in the bomb called for a full investigation into claims that the IRA atrocity could have been prevented.

It was claimed in the Irish News that the north Belfast IRA commander behind the attack had tipped off his Special Branch handlers about the bomb but they had failed to act.

A document alleging possible collusion is said to have been among files stolen by the Provisionals during the Castlereagh break-in.

However, Mr Gamble said he is confident the Police Ombudsman will find police did not have any prior information.

He said he was reluctant to speak out about the case and did not want to get involved in "tit for tat politicking", but he wanted to put the record straight for the victims "who are feeling a lot of pain."

"What is being said at the moment is wholly destructive," said Mr Gamble.

Jim Gamble is the first RUC Special Branch officer active at the time of the atrocity to speak out and publicly defend the police investigation
Jim Gamble is the first RUC Special Branch officer active at the time of the atrocity to speak out and publicly defend the police investigation

"It's the type of sensationalist allegation that is so easy to make, difficult to prove but, in a world where so many people believe what they read, more difficult to disprove.

"I know some of the victims of this terrorist atrocity personally, so am well aware that this story is causing them great pain, it's twisting the knife in an old, ever-open wound. I also understand that it is only natural that many will wonder whether police officers could have done such a terrible thing and kept such a shameful secret."

Mr Gamble revealed that members of his own family were caught up in the bomb blast.

"At the time of this attack I was a member of Special Branch, although not yet based in Belfast.

"I was, however, at the scene of the bomb within hours of the mass murder, as a concerned relative searching through the rubble. The shop adjoined to Frizzells (the fish shop where the bomb exploded) and destroyed by the same blast was McClean's Wallpapers, my father in law's shop, staffed by family," said Mr Gamble.

He added: "Over the years that followed I went on to become regional head of Special Branch in Belfast. So to suggest in that period of time I would never have picked up a whisper that anything like this could have happened is just ridiculous."

"If I had, I would have been the first person to come forward and report this", he insisted.

Defending his former colleagues in Special Branch, Mr Gamble said: "The allegation that police knew, failed to do anything and, worse still, sought to take advantage of the carnage is, in my opinion, simply unbelievable.

"The men and women who served in the branch are not the characters of sinister movies but most people's neighbours, friends or relatives.

"I have had the privilege of working with many of them and knowing them and the systems used in these matters I don't believe it would have been possible to do such a thing and keep it a secret."

Mr Gamble continued: "I believe the facts are these; there was no warning, just a premeditated terrorist attack. It represented everything that was wrong with where we were; in hate filled conflict.

"I understand none of us have a monopoly on pain, every community suffered. Many on all sides did things in the context of the Troubles they may now wish they hadn't.

"So I'm not saying everything was perfect, but I am saying I'm sure there was no warning provided to police prior to the IRA attack on the Shankill Road."

Last week, Chief Constable George Hamilton told the Northern Ireland Policing Board he does not believe the claim that the RUC knew of the bombing beforehand.

Mr Gamble said that before making that public statement, Mr Hamilton would have "dotted his i's and cross his t's to make sure there was absolutely no truth in the claim."

He also called for a "full and thorough investigation" as "the families deserve nothing less".

"The investigation needs access to everything and independent investigators need to be able to see whatever Special Branch or other government agencies have. They must also get full access to the material that forms the basis of these allegations," said Mr Gamble.

He added: "Given that the allegations have been published, why not show us the document that proves police were told about the attack before it took place. Don't play games with people's lives. For my part, I am confident that no such document exists.

"I don't want the families of victims who suffered so much to be tormented by this speculation, so hope the investigation moves with the sense of urgency it deserves."

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