Suspects’ interview notes ruined by asbestos

Teebane Bombing 17th January 1992'The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb killing eight Protestant civilians who had been travelling in a minibus past Teebane crossroads between Cookstown and Omagh, County Tyrone. The men had been working at a military base in County Tyrone and were travelling home when the attack occurred. (News Letter Library File)
Teebane Bombing 17th January 1992'The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb killing eight Protestant civilians who had been travelling in a minibus past Teebane crossroads between Cookstown and Omagh, County Tyrone. The men had been working at a military base in County Tyrone and were travelling home when the attack occurred. (News Letter Library File)

INTERVIEW notes from the RUC investigation into the Teebane massacre have been contaminated by asbestos, it has emerged in a report by the Historical Enquiries Team.

Neither the RUC or PSNI were able to find any DNA or fingerprint evidence to link anyone to the bombing that killed eight people despite the fact there were 19 pieces of evidence recovered from the scene, including sweet wrappers and a cigarette packet.

In 2002 during a PSNI review of the investigation even the new Low Copy Number used in the investigation into the Omagh bomb was unable to find any DNA evidence that could link anyone to the Teebane attack.

The day before the 20th anniversary of the killings, the News Letter has seen a copy of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report into the police investigation into the atrocity.

In January 1992 Detective Chief Inspector Kenneth McFarland led the investigations into Teebane, with Detective Inspector Millar Farr as his deputy. The team was staffed by a further detective inspector, four detective sergeants, 21 detective constables and three police constables.

The report finds that a suspect known simply by the number 8 was arrested on June 13, 1992, on suspicion of being involved in the commission of terrorist offences. An intelligence report mentioned in the HET report also names suspect 8 as the person who detonated the bomb as the minibus containing the workers approached Teebane crossroads.

However, it has now emerged that the notes pertaining to this person’s interview are no longer available because they were contaminated by asbestos. The HET report says this means it is not known if this person was interviewed by police about Teebane.

Last September it was reported that a number of police records held at Gough Barracks in Portadown were destroyed due to asbestos contamination.

The HET report does not specify if the notes relating to Teebane were contained in Gough.

The HET record that now deceased IRA man Patrick O’Hagan was spotted by an RUC reserve constable driving his own car accompanied by a woman in the area of the Teebane crossroads about 50 minutes before the murder.

However the HET report says there is no firm evidence linking Mr O’Hagan to the bombing.

In terms of logistics the report finds that the Teebane bomb was placed overnight on Thursday 16 to Friday, January 17, placed to attack the van as it passed on the way to Omagh, but detonation was postponed due to fog.

While a bearded man was seen by a survivor Bobby O’Neill straight after the bomb detonated, a bearded man was also seen by witness L, a lorry driver at the bus stop at Teebane crossroads on the morning of the attack. Both assisted police in compiling a photo fit of the man. Witness L viewed photographs of the suspects but failed to identify anyone, while Mr O’Neill was never asked to view any photographs of suspects. HET says there is no explanation for this in the RUC investigation.

RUC special branch officers from Omagh recommended a list of nine Provisional IRA members from the area that they considered suspects. Suspect one was arrested, said nothing and was released the next day. Suspect 9 was reported to have been working in England at the time. That person was never questioned. Suspects 2, 3 and 4 were arrested and their houses searched. All were released after four days without charge. Suspects 5,6 and 7 were arrested in February but released without charge.

Suspects 1, 2, 4 and 6 were on the list of nine provided by special branch but suspects 3, 5, 7 and 9 were not. Five men on the list were never arrested and there is no record to explain why they were not.

The HET report finds that no other arrests were ever made in relation to the investigation and no one has ever been charged in connection with the eight murders.

In 2002, the PSNI submitted pieces of forensic evidence recovered from the scene including sweet wrappers and a cigarette packet for testing in relation to Low Copy Number (LCN).

But no LCN of sufficient quality was found to identify anyone who may have been involved in the murders.

The HET say it considered 285 witness statements, 277 messages, 223 house-to-house inquiry forms, 52 questionnaire forms, 1,288 nominal forms, 648 vehicle records, telephone records, 726 address records, police internal reports, photograph albums of the scene, maps of the scene, police exhibit registers, forensic submissions, books, newspapers and television reports as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions advice file on corporate manslaughter investigation into the RUC and Karl Construction.

- Read more on the Teebane anniversary in Monday’s News Letter