Belfast Telegraph

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

People gathered on Market Street in Omagh during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing
People gathered on Market Street in Omagh during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing
People gathered on Market Street, Omagh, ahead of the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing
Family of victim Jolene Marlow
People throw white petals into the water at Remembrance Garden after the ceremony
Former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton

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."

Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Pacemaker Press 15/08/2018 Prayers are held at at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on the 20th anniversary of Omagh bombing. Prayers are to held at 3.10pm to remember the victims of the bomb in Omagh 20 years ago today. 29 candles where lit for the victims. Picture Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. A young girl is seen through the Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. A young girl is seen through the Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. A young girl is seen through the Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People are seen through the Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People are seen through the Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. A woman lays flowers at Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. A bell is rang once during the ceremony for each person who died and then one at the end for everyone. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People are seen through the Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. A bell is rang once during the ceremony for each person who died and then one at the end for everyone. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. A woman lays flowers at Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People are seen through the Omagh bomb memorial as the ceremony takes place on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. One of the victims Jolene Marlow's family(right) pictured during the ceremony on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. One of the victims Jolene Marlow's family pictured during the ceremony on the spot of the bombing on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Members of the fire service throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Members of the fire service throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People gather white petals to throw into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 15th August 2017 Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 29 people were killed in the Co. Tyrone town on 15th August 1998 when a dissident republican bomb exploded on Market Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. People throw white petals into the Omagh bomb remembrance garden after the ceremony on Market Street. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Floral tributes left at the Omagh Bomb Memorial, located on Market Street, ahead of the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathering on Market Street, Omagh, ahead of the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathering on Market Street, Omagh, ahead of the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathering on Market Street, Omagh, ahead of the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathering on Market Street, Omagh, ahead of the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathering on Market Street, Omagh, ahead of the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathering on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People visit the Omagh Memorial garden after attending the ceremony for victims of the car bomb on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People visit the Omagh Memorial garden after attending the ceremony for victims of the car bomb on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
White Rose petals are thrown into a pond at the Omagh Memorial garden by people who attended the ceremony for victims of the car bomb on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Richard Scott reads a poem entitled "Reality" during the ceremony for victims of the Omagh bombing at the site where a car bomb exploded on Market Street in Omagh on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People observe a minutes silence on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathered on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathered on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathered on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Kevin Skelton, whose wife Philomena died in the blast during the ceremony for victims of the Omagh car bombing on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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".

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