A new inquiry into the Omagh bomb disaster three years after it took the lives of 29 men, women and children has been announced by the RUC. However, the RUC itself is denying allegations that it knew of the bomb two days before it was detonated by the Real IRA in August 1998. And an investigation is said to be underway into the allegations by the police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland.
Newspaper reports claim that the decision by the Ombudsman to intervene came as an RUC double agent alleged that he had tipped off his police handler that a bomb was being made by a well-known dissident republican paramilitary.
The double agent, using the name Kevin Fulton, allegedly told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that he believes his information, if acted upon at the time, could have prevented the 29 deaths in Omagh. He claimed that a senior member of the Real IRA told him there was “something big” on two days before the blast, and there were clear indications that the man had been making the bomb himself. He said he told his RUC handler the man’s name and car registration number and informed him of the bomb just hours later.
Three months later, he told the lead detective in charge of the warning, he said, but was never asked to give a statement, even though he showed the RUC a Real IRA bomb-making factory.
The father of one of the victims, Michael Gallagher, whose son was killed in Omagh, described the allegations as very serious and said they cannot be left to hang in the air. “The police service is our insurance, we look to them to look after us.” If there were deficiencies in the system, he said, they must be highlighted.
The RUC denied it had any advance knowledge. In a statement on the third anniversary of the bombing, the RUC said: “The chief constable (Ronnie Flanagan) has discussed the matter with the Ombudsman and welcomes her examination of the issue which he hopes will be reassuring to the families of the victims of this dreadful atrocity.”
But the families believe they are not being given all the information they need. Despite a huge police investigation, only one man, Colm Murphy, has been charged in connection with the bomb. He is awaiting trial in Dublin on charges of conspiracy to cause an explosion and membership of an illegal terrorist group. However, a BBC documentary last year named four other suspects, prompting victims’ families to start civil suits against them.
On the anniversary of the bombing, during a press conference, Lawrence Rush, whose wife, Libbi, was killed by the bomb, had strong words for the RUC. “Tell me, are you a completely incompetent force, that in Great Britain they can pick up lone murderers out of a population of 59 million? Do you recognize that we have a population of four million and you cannot pick up over 100-odd people?”
Meanwhile, a recent bomb in the Ealing section of London, in which eight people were injured and millions of pounds of damage was caused, has also been credited to the Real IRA. ♦