Belfast Telegraph

Man who lost wife in Omagh bomb 'frothing at mouth' over O'Loan anniversary comments

Former police watchdog said atrocity could have been prevented

A man whose wife was killed in the Omagh bombing expressed anger at the comments from former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan that the tragedy could have been prevented.

Kevin Skelton's wife Philomena was one of 29 people killed in the Real IRA attack, including a woman pregnant with twins.

Speaking on the 20th anniversary of the August 15 1998 bombing, Baroness O'Loan said that she "firmly believed" it could have been prevented had intelligence warnings been heeded in the run up to the bomb. She said she spoke out as lessons from the atrocity had not been learned and she did not seek to add to anyone's pain.

As Police Ombudsman she published a 2001 report criticising the RUC's handling of the aftermath of the bomb.

"My view now is that it could have been prevented, that had the various intelligence services worked in a more cohesive way and had the necessary action been taken by senior officers in the Special Branch. If that had been convened to the subdivisional commander in Omagh he could have just set checkpoints around the town and the affect of that could have been to drive the bombers to abandon their bomb outside the town," she said.

However Mr Skelton, who serves as Chairman of the Omagh 'Families Moving On' group, said that Mrs O'Loan's comments were poorly timed on a day that was supposed to be about remembering victims.

"I am absolutely frothing at the mouth, this is a day that was planned for the people of Omagh, for the injured, bereaved and everything," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme.

"I don't care what Mrs O'Loan says or what anybody else says, this was done deliberately to get as big an impact as it could. It makes me sick."

"It takes away from the people that planted the bomb in Omagh, the police didn't plant it, the Real IRA drove it into the town and murdered my wife and others."

He also rejected her call for a public inquiry.

"She's quite entitled to her opinion, but she could have said it any other day, this was deliberately done and it makes my stomach sick," Mr Skelton said.

"I don't agree with her, a public inquiry won't achieve anything, it won't bring anybody back. We all know what happened, the dogs on the street know what happened and it doesn't matter if millions are spent on a public inquiry, nothing is going to change.

"The police in the north that investigated the case done their best to get the culprits. Today was about the families and about the people of Omagh."

"It's an absolute disgrace and an insult to me, families I represent and police officers who were serving in Omagh on the day."

Mrs O'Loan also appeared on the Talkback programme and defended her decision to air her views on the anniversary.

"The families have my most profound sympathy on this day," she said.

"I am saying it today because we are living in a world in which terrorism is a daily reality, we live in a world in which we need the best possible systems and processes to prevent atrocities.

"At the time when I did my report I did it fairly rapidly because we all wanted proper criminal investigations and people to be brought to justice and I did not say a lot of things I could have said in order to protect any intelligence or material that might be used in an investigation.

"We established there had been warnings and a failure in the investigation. Since then we have seen very, very significant developments in terms of understanding the whole issue of the Omagh bombing."

She said that she stood by her comments that the bombing could have been prevented.

"It doesn't come easy for me to say this, but I think if you have a view which is informed by your experience of investigation then you do have certain duties and I think it was incumbent upon me to say this because the people of Omagh said to me 'we need to be sure this never happens again' and that did not happen," Mrs O'Loan said.

"I have said it today because I think we can learn from the mistakes which happened at Omagh.

"I have no wish to add to anyone's pain today, I just think that good can come out of the most profound evil."

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton accused Mrs O'Loan of "traumatising" the Omagh bombing families over her "bizarre" claims.

"If we could have prevented that bombing, of course we would have done," he said.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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