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Omagh bombing: 'Sir Hugh Orde can't have it both ways'

The Omagh bombing, the Panorama programme and the needs of victims

Chaired by Alban Maginness MLA, this was the first of three sessions presented at the SDLP seminar, 'Policing and its oversight at times of threat', held on Saturday in Belfast and the first of a number of events the party plans to stage this year to mark the tenth anniversary of the Patten Commission report on Policing.

Before I proceed further, let me declare an interest. As I have previously mentioned on this blog, at the time of the Omagh bomb the main volunteer in the Amnesty office in Belfast was Claire Grimes, whose family lost members of three generations in the bombing. Therefore I am particularly keen that her and the other families should be able to secure justice for their loss, although I am increasingly doubtful that this will ever happen.

First to adress the event was John Ware, broadcast journalist of the year at the RTS Journalism Awards in 2001 for the Panorama programme 'Who Bombed Omagh' and presenter of the 2008 follow-up, 'Omagh: What the Police Were Never Told'.

Ware opened his presentation by making the point that, whereas the police in Northern Ireland have become ever more accountable through a series of institutions and mechanisms, the UK intelligence services continue to escape anything approaching adequate public scrutiny, with politicians apparently all too happy to defer to their superior judgement.

Given that MI5 has now taken over responsibility from the PSNI for national security matters in Northern Ireland, this might be something worth worrying about, particularly in light of Ware's revelations that the intelligence services failed to fully share information about crucial telephone intercepts of the Omagh bombers with the police in Northern Ireland – before and after the bombing.

This apparent unwillingness to share vital intelligence seems to have hampered the police investigation and is arguably one of the factors why the police trail to the bombers went cold and justice remains undelivered. Whether or not such sharing of intelligence might have actually prevented the bombing remains a moot point – unknowable because, ten years later, we still don't have the full picture.

Ware criticised the recent report by Sir Peter Gibson, into the findings of the Panorama programme. Sir Peter's report had rejected many of the claims made in the Panorama programme, saying that intercept evidence had been shared with police "promptly and fully, and done so with the latter in accordance with procedures".

Ware's own interview by Sir Peter is described as "unpleasant" and "adversarial". In a later presentation Dame Nuala O'Loan would note that, given her (damning) report as Police Ombudsman into the police handling of the Omagh investigation, she expected to be interviewed by Sir Peter as part of his inquiry. She described the fact that he never called as "interesting". Dame Nuala chooses her words carefully.

Ware declares the Intelligence Services Commissioner's report to be "highly circumscribed" and accusing it of failing to address key questions raised by the BBC investigation. More detail on this can be found on the BBC's Q&A response to the report.

Of the PSNI Chief Constable, Ware says this:

"Sir Hugh Orde said in his letter to the Secretary of State regarding the Gibson Report that the lack of sharing of intercept material would not have made a difference. Equally, he has agreed with the findings of Nuala O'Loan's report that evidential opportunities were missed. He can't have it both ways."

There is perhaps a question here that Dolores Kelly, SDLP member of the Policing Board and one of the seminar Chairs, might just put to Sir Hugh at the Board's next meeting.

Blog report continued at: Omagh: 'You can kill 31 people and get away with it'

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