A failure by the police resulted in the death of three people who died when they triggered an IRA booby-trap bomb left in a flat, the Police Ombudsman has found.
In a report made public today, the Ombudsman found that the RUC had information that there was a device in a property in the Creggan estate in Londonderry in August 1988 but did nothing to warn those living in the area of the possible danger.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, confirmed his investigation was hampered by the failure of some retired officers to co-operate.
He also found that police also failed to properly investigate the deaths.
The RUC was told five days before the explosion that a car abandoned in Kildrum Gardens was "convenient to a house" which had been booby-trapped and that, if necessary, the terrorists planned to lure police to the property.
Members of victim Eugene Dalton's family complained to Dr Maguire's office that police failed to warn people in the area and, in particular, failed to uphold their father's right to life.
They alleged that these failures were prompted by a desire to protect the identity of a police informant, and also complained that police failed to investigate properly what had happened.
Dr Maguire's investigation upheld the Dalton family's views that their father's right to life was not upheld and that the RUC did not properly investigate the deaths, however it disagreed with the family's claim that the police were protecting an informant.
Dr Maguire said: "We found no evidence of any effort to pinpoint the exact location of the device or to warn the people who lived in and frequented the area. The police placed the area 'out of bounds' to their officers.
"We have talked to former police officers and considered other things which were happening in the city at that time and which must have placed enormous pressures on policing. The safety of officers was obviously a critical concern and police were rightly very cautious in responding to such incidents.
"However, police allowed a booby-trap bomb to remain in a location which presented a very real risk to life.
"There was an obligation on police to protect the lives of the public and I have to conclude that they failed in this regard.
"They failed to do all that could reasonably have been expected of them in the circumstances."
Reacting to the Dr Maguire's report, the family of Mr Dalton said that, like Dr Maguire they, too, laid the ultimate responsibility for the deaths of their father, Sheila Lewis and Gerard Curran at the door of the IRA.
The bomb which killed their father and left the Dalton siblings Jim (since deceased), Martin, Dorothy, Roseleen, Phylis and Kay without a home was planted just five weeks after their mother Polly had died.
Speaking at a Press conference, Mr Dalton's daughter Kay Devine said: "Whilst we are focusing on our daddy's case our thoughts today are with the families of Sheila Lewis and Gerard Curran.
"We also acknowledge that that terrible day had another tragic consequence. Gerry Laird, the occupant of the flat, took his own life some years later. We accept the findings of this report; after 25 years of lies deception and evasion we finally feel vindicated, however we have no sense of jubilation. These finding are long overdue and we are sad that our brother Jim, who died two years ago, did not live to see this report.
"We would like to thank the staff of the Pat Finucane Centre for their ongoing support over the nine years since we lodged the complaint with the Ombudsman and we would like to acknowledge the recent good work of the new Police Ombudsman and his team.
"We found it difficult to find out that senior officers in the RUC did not co-operate with the Ombudsman. We are a law-abiding family and we expected the police to uphold the law and do the right thing."
Almost 25 years to the day since the killings at Kildrum Gardens, PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie said sorry to the victims' families.
She said: "The Police Ombudsman's report into the bombing and murders at 38 Kildrum Gardens is a stark and terrible reminder of the horrific times that our community lived through.
"For police officers, whose duty it is to protect life, there is a deep and sincere sorrow for the loss of the lives of Eugene Dalton, Sheila Lewis and Gerard Curran."
Eugene Dalton (55) and Sheila Lewis (60) died when they triggered an IRA booby-trap bomb. Gerard Curran died six months later from his injuries. They had entered a flat out of concern for the man who had lived there. The Police Ombudsman found that the RUC failed to uphold the right to life of those killed and did not properly investigate the deaths.