Nuala O’Loan ‘should present any new Omagh evidence to police’

William Matchett said Nuala O'Loan's statement about the Omagh bomb was based on opinion rather than fact
William Matchett said Nuala O'Loan's statement about the Omagh bomb was based on opinion rather than fact

Two former RUC officers have voiced serious concerns about claims made by ex-police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan that new evidence exists backing up her assertion that police could have prevented the Omagh bomb attack.

Twenty-nine people, including a mother pregnant with unborn twins, were killed in the murderous blast, which devastated the Co Tyrone town on August 15, 1998.

Speaking on Wednesday, the 20th anniversary of the Real IRA atrocity, the former ombudsman said she now believes the attack could have been prevented by police – a claim disputed by the chief constable and other serving and former senior officers.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Baroness O’Loan, who investigated the police handling of the bombing, said “further information” has emerged about the bombing, but added that she wasn’t able to talk about some of it.

Reacting to her remarks, former Special Branch detective inspector William Matchett and ex-police reservist Ross Hussey both criticised the content and timing of Mrs O’Loan’s comments, saying there was no way police officers could have prevented the bombing.

Mr Matchett, a Special Branch officer for 20 years, said Mrs O’Loan’s statement that police could have prevented the bomb attack was based on opinion rather than fact.

“Where is the new evidence? If there is new information in this case, did she present it to the police or the police ombudsman?

“I can’t see there being anything that is a game changer in all this, and if it is I’m sure the chief constable and the Police Ombudsman’s Office would have been made aware of it long ago,” he said.

Mr Hussey, who served in the police reserve from 1977-2003 and later became an MLA for West Tyrone, added: “For her to come out with a statement like that on that particular day was totally wrong.

“I think the chief constable hit the nail on the head when he said she had all the information in front of her when she was the ombudsman. She had everything that was available from a policing point of view and beyond and she didn’t make that decision at that time.

“In my view she overstepped the mark. She has made a statement as if it is fact. She claims to have new information. Well if that is the case has she passed that information on to the police?

“The people we really want to talk about and see in the dock are the people that brought the bomb into Omagh – those people who knew what they were doing by putting 500lbs of explosives into a car. If Nuala O’Loan has evidence as to who they are then let her present it.”