PSNI chief constable George Hamilton has apologised to Omagh families if the PSNI’s non-attendance at a memorial event seemed “disrespectful”.
Mr Hamilton said the absence of a PSNI representative was not connected to a writ issued by families against him but was down to confusion around invitations.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the 1998 Omagh bomb, said he accepted the chief constable’s apology and was glad to have “cleared the air”.
The News Letter reported on Wednesday how the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s non-attendance at the 19th anniversary memorial service for Omagh bomb had been met with disappointment and “regret”.
One former officer raised questions of a police force that could send officers to the Pride festival in Belfast, but not a memorial for the single biggest atrocity of the Troubles.
It was understood to be the first time in 19 years the PSNI had not sent a representative and came days after Omagh families had issued a writ against the chief constable for failings in the Omagh bomb investigation.
After seeking clarification every day for the next three days on why police had not attended the service, we received a response from Chief Constable George Hamilton last night in which he apologised to Omagh families and offered an explanation for the PSNI’s absence at the 19th annual event.
He said: “I have the utmost respect for the Omagh families and would never seek to cause offence or be dismissive of their grief and pain and if the PSNI’s non-attendance at the event seems disrespectful, I apologise for that.
“It is unfortunate that there appears to have been some confusion around invitations. I can confirm that local District police have received formal invitations to the event in the past but no formal invitation was received this year. I can also confirm that other stakeholders within government did receive a formal invitation this year.
“PSNI not being represented at the event is not connected with, or in response to, the writ issued against me by Mr Gallagher and some of the Omagh families. That matter will be dealt with in due course through legal process.”
Mr Gallagher accepted the apology and said when planning next year’s 20th anniversary service he would take on board the chief constable’s comments.
“We hope to build on this,” he said.
“We have formed a committee to prepare for the 20th anniversary and we will factor in what the PSNI have said and make sure formal invites are sent to the PSNI, fire service and ambulance service among others.”
Mr Gallagher said the only formal invites sent to this year’s event were to the NIO and the Irish Foreign Affairs department.
He said police would have been aware of the event as they had been notified about it for traffic purposes.
“It would be so difficult to send out formal invites when we want to make it open to everyone,” he said.