Eight Protestant workmen died and six more were injured when their van was blown up by a 500lb road-side bomb at Teebane crossroads between Omagh and Cookstown on January 17, 1992. The IRA attempted to justify the atrocity on the grounds that the men had been doing construction work at an army barracks in Omagh.
Teebane survivor Bobby O’Neill described how a “bearded man” walked among the wreckage as the 14 Karl Construction workers lay dead or injured moments after the explosion. Another man, known as ‘Witness L’, also told how he passed the spot where the killers lay in wait that morning, and witnessed a man of a similar description close to the scene of the bomb. The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report into the atrocity revealed how two similar photo fits were given to police in the days and weeks after the tragedy depicting a bearded man, but neither were ever made public.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the attack, today, the News Letter asked the PSNI if it would consider releasing the images in the hope of stirring up fresh leads. However police declined.
A PSNI spokeswoman said that “the release of photo-fits and other material must be undertaken as part of a broader investigative strategy. As no active lines of enquiry currently exist, it would not be appropriate to release this material in isolation.”
However Jean Caldwell, whose 37-year-old husband Cecil died in the attack, rejected the police explanation.
“We have heard about this bearded man so many times,” she said.
“Of course I would like to see these photo-fits released - 100 per cent.”
“The reason the PSNI have given for refusing is that there are no active lines of inquiry. But it is quite obvious that if you release the mug-shots you could start to get active lines of inquiry.”
“My husband would have been 63 in June - he was 37 when he was murdered,
“This last week has been like a dark heavy cloud over our shoulders - all of us.
“I still feel angry about it because to me it seems that we are the forgotten atrocity.
“Everyone seems to think they can sweep this under the carpet. All we want is the truth and justice and surely after 25 years they must know someone who had a part in Teebane.”
The couple had two daughters, Diane and Grace.
“Grace was only three and never knew her father. It has had a huge impact on all our lives.”
“People ask me ‘do you forgive them?’ I always say: ‘How can I forgive them, I don’t know who to forgive’.”
Another relative of one of those killed declined to give his name and said he did not even know if an inquest was ever held for those killed.
“I have been around police meetings, victims commissioners, police ombudsman meetings and I am finished with the whole lot because they are doing nothing.” he said. “They have done absolutely nothing”.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson attended a meeting with the PSNI and Teebane relatives when he was a member of the Policing Board.
“I do find it very odd police have identification pictures that may jog peoples memories but they are not prepared to release them,” he said. “It reinforces this view around victims that police pursue terrorists less rigorously than members of the security forces.”
He said the fact that three elderly English ex-soldiers are now facing Troubles-era murder charges in Northern Ireland is causing “huge anger” among Tory MPs. And he contrasted the PSNI role in those arrests with the fact that a bailed suspect in relation to the 2012 murder of prison officer David Black was missing for seven weeks before the PSNI noticed.
“It seems the PSNI is bending over backwards to be seen to recognising complaints by republicans.”