Belfast Telegraph

PSNI defends cones and tape response to van bomb

Dissident warnings over 500lb device sparked confusion, says officer

By Lesley-Anne Henry

A senior police officer has defended the PSNI over its handling of a security alert when hundreds of motorists drove past a 500lb van bomb.

Chief Superintendent Alasdair Robinson spoke after fierce criticism of how officers dealt with the bomb on the main Belfast to Dublin Road last Friday.

Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt, of the DUP, criticised the use of cones in the alert and said this was not good enough.

But Mr Robinson, who is based in Lurgan, said the police clearance operation was hampered by two “ambiguous” warnings.

He claimed a full cordon had been erected when the vehicle was finally located.

“The warning came in to a local charity and it said the following: ‘This is the IRA, there is a bomb under the underpass’.” No location was given and there was nine seconds of recording.

“The first one said: ‘This is the IRA, we've planted a bomb on the underpass at the Berliss Road and it is to go off in 45 minutes’.

“Now there is no Berliss Road on the M1. The M1 goes from Belfast to the west.

“The M1, of course, is the A1/M1 which is the national north-south route, so that was the level of ambiguity.”

Mr Robinson said the PSNI was now reviewing its use of signage during alerts.

“It is not part of anyone's plan to allow any member of the public to go anywhere near what was a suspect device,” he added.

But Mr Spratt, a former chairman of the Police Federation, said: “A few police cones and some tape is just not good enough.

“Yes, the Chief Constable has a duty of care to his officers, but he also has a major duty of care to the public in Northern Ireland.

“If that means there are not adequate resources then he needs to look for other ways of handling his resources, or look at other ways that resources can be used.

“Are we going to mess about and wait until something catastrophic happens?”

Meanwhile, bomb alerts in the Bushford Manor area of Antrim and on the M1 near Lurgan yesterday were declared hoaxes.

The story so far

Police have dealt with 10 security alerts in the past seven days. The most serious was in Newry where a 500lbs bomb packed into a Transit van was abandoned in an underpass below the Belfast to Dublin Road at about 11pm last Friday. The road was closed. However, some motorists ignored the police cordon and were able to drive past the bomb.

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