The PSNI has been heavily criticised after waiting 17 days to search for a suspect device in Co Fermanagh because they thought it was a terrorist trap, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Dissident republicans said they had abandoned an explosive device on a stretch of road between Donagh and Rosslea on April 3 but the PSNI held off for over a fortnight before beginning their search yesterday.
Nothing untoward was found but the police have been criticised for the lengthy delay.
Last night a spokesman for the PSNI said the bomb warning, telephoned to a Fermanagh based journalist, is believed to have been a bid to lure officers into the area. He claimed locals had been told to be vigilant.
“We put a warning out on April 3 for people to be careful.
“This area has a history of attacks on members of the security forces dating back through the years, that’s why we didn’t move in straight away. There have been a half dozen or so attacks in the past 20 years, many of them fatal.
“We take these warnings seriously. We spoke to people in the area and to the community representatives and made them aware of the whole thing.
“We don’t know what is in the minds of these terrorists which is why we move cautiously,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Ruth Lynch, who lives on the B36 road, branded the delay “irresponsible.”
She said: “What about the risk to the public? I’d like to question the police on this and I am sure my party will be requesting a meeting with them on this issue.
“They are telling members of the general public to act immediately while it takes them 17 days. I am a local councillor and a member of the DPP and I never heard about it. I would like to have been made aware of it. Personally I believe it was irresponsible.
“There was a Republican Sinn Fein commemoration parade in the same area last week with 17 people in attendance and the police flooded the place. They had helicopters landing in Rosslea.”
SDLP councillor Fergus McQuillan sympathised with the PSNI’s position.
“Thank God this was a hoax. But I would be reluctant to have any policemen sent in and I don’t want to see any policemen killed or have their lives put in danger or at risk.
“I would condemn those who are responsible for sending in these hoax messages — there are far too many of them but thank God they are hoaxes.
“I wouldn’t be happy enough with 17 minutes but at the same time I value the lives of the officers who have to investigate.”
Meanwhile the PSNI has re-issued appeals for members of the public to be wary of suspicious objects and to report the locations immediately.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111 or 0845 600 8000.