No justice for the victims of Omagh bombing

Sir Ronnie Flanagan, former Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (and, subsequently, the Police Service of Northern Ireland) infamously once declared that he "would publicly commit suicide" if he believed the findings contained in a report by the Police Ombudsman into the police mishandling of the Omagh bomb inquiry proved to be true. The report stated that failed police leadership (i.e. that of his and colleagues) hampered the investigation of the bombing.

Following the damning indictment of the police's investigation handed down by Judge Weir in Belfast High Court yesterday at the trial of Sean Hoey, most people in Northern Ireland are left feeling utterly depressed at the wreckage left behind by the case.

Nine and a half years on, no-one has been found guilty of carrying out the disgusting events of August 15th 1998, when 'Real IRA' bombers killed 29 people and two unborn babies. The bombers and those who have covered up for them bear the ultimate, terrible responsibility for these deaths and the related trauma.

But, our depression at this truth is multiplied by the evidence, not just of police incompetence, but as Justice Weir put it, deliberate and calculated deception by officers. The judge has forwarded trial transcripts to the Police Ombudsman for further investigation.

Outside the courthouse, the officer in charge of the case, Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter, walked away from the questions of journalists and family members.

Over the years, I have watched the Omagh case with particular interest and a growing sense of despair and anger. Few people, beyond the families of the victims themselves, come out of the story well.

In 1998, the recently opened Amnesty office in Northern Ireland depended heavily on a brilliant volunteer, Claire.  Claire was from just outside Omagh. She lost three members, across three generations, of her extended family that day in the town.

Claire and all the other relatives of the dead have got on with their lives as best they can, but still they have been denied the justice of seeing those responsible convicted. A conspiracy of silence and criminally bad policing mean that they probably never will.

Today, no-one is calling for Sir Ronnie Flanagan to commit suicide (only he was so crass), but there is a gathering storm of calls for his resignation from his job as head of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. In the wake of yesterdays failed prosecution, it is hard to see how he can hang on to his role of telling all the English, Welsh and Northern Irish police forces how to do their jobs better.

The call for Sir Ronnie to go started with Victor Barker, who lost his 12-year-old son, James, in the bombing. Now Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, has refused to give Sir Ronnie his backing. Of course, his resignation wouldnt bring justice one inch closer, but it might suggest at least a little bit of accountability among senior police officers.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commissions on both sides of the border have demanded a Cory-style public inquiry into the bombing and the police handling of the case. The governments should waste no more time in heeding the call.

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