Belfast Telegraph

O'Loan stands by claim Omagh blast could have been prevented only for failings by intelligence

By Suzanne Breen

Former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan has stood by her comments that the Omagh bomb could have been prevented.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Baroness O'Loan said she was sorry if her claim and her call for a public inquiry had hurt any relatives, but she had a duty to speak out.

Kevin Skelton, whose wife Mena was killed in the bomb, said it was "absolutely despicable" that Mrs O'Loan had chosen to make her comments on the 20th anniversary of the atrocity. He said he had no interest in a public inquiry.

The former Ombudsman faced a deluge of criticism from the Police Federation and unionist politicians.

Chief Constable George Hamilton strongly denied her claim that the Real IRA attack could have been prevented.

Mrs O'Loan said some of the Omagh families had contacted her yesterday to offer their support. "Kevin suffered the loss of his lovely wife and he is entitled to his views," she said.

"I was asked a question by the BBC and I answered it honestly.

"I recognise the hurt that caused Kevin and I would never mean to cause him or any other victim pain."

She continued: "The level of criticism I'm now facing is the same as I faced in 2001 after my Ombudsman's report.

"I knew it would happen again and it would have been easy for me just to say 'wasn't Omagh terrible?' and 'I feel sorry for the victims'.

"I felt I had a duty to do more than that."

Mrs O'Loan said she had told Michael and Patsy Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the bomb, and other relatives what she was planning to say when she attended a memorial service in the town on Sunday.

"Nobody said to me: 'Don't'.

"Indeed some of the families are judicially reviewing the Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry."

Mrs O'Loan denied claims she was effectively blaming the police for the bomb and said she had stated that the Real IRA alone was culpable for the carnage.

She rejected suggestions she was in any way criticising officers on the ground in Omagh on the day of the atrocity.

"I have nothing but admiration for them," she said.

"My criticism is of the intelligence services who didn't share information with local police on the ground." In her 2001 report, Mrs O'Loan said she didn't know if the bomb could have been prevented.

She said civil and criminal cases, and inquiries, had brought more information to light which caused her to change her mind.

Mr Skelton said the timing of Mrs O'Loan's remarks was despicable.

"We know what happened in Omagh, we know who did it," he said.

"The Real IRA planted a bomb, the police didn't plant it, and her comments sickened me to my stomach."

Richard Scott, an off-duty RUC officer who was at the scene, called on the former policing watchdog to apologise for "raising the temperature on such an emotional day".

He said: "Nuala O'Loan has jumped all over those police officers, first responders, the Fire Brigade, ambulance drivers, everyone who was there that day."

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said Mrs O'Loan hadn't provided "a shred of evidence" to back up her claims which called into question police officers' good names.

"Her intervention on a solemn day of commemoration, when relatives take time to remember their loved ones, is insensitive," he said. "Her contribution will serve to open wounds and traumatise good people."

The Chief Constable insisted police couldn't have prevented the bomb.

He said Mrs O'Loan's claim was "inaccurate, unfair and unreasonable".

"Police were not in a position to prevent the Omagh bombing," he added.

DUP MLA Thomas Buchanan called her comments "ill-judged", and UUP leader Robin Swann said they were "regrettable" on a day "when the focus should be solely on the families and not her".

Belfast Telegraph

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