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Transcript of Interview with Ronnie Flanagan, then Chief Constable of the PSNI, on BBC 'Newsnight' Programme, 13 December 2001



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Transcript: BBC Page Compiled Brendan Lynn

The following is a transcript of an interview between Kirsty Wark, then a BBC presenter on Newsnight, and Sir Ronnie Flanagan, then Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The live interview took place duing the 'Newsnight' programme on BBC2 which was broadcast on 13 December 2001.

BBC NEWS | Programmes | Newsnight | Sir Ronnie Flanagan
13 December 2001

 

WARK:
Ronnie Flanagan joins me now. Can I begin first on that statement about suicide. Omagh was the largest mass murder in Northern Ireland. Doesn't it that make that remark crass and objectionable?

SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN:
My foremost consideration is the victims of that terrible atrocity.

WARK:
Why say something like that, that you were going to commit suicide publicly if the report is found to be true?

FLANAGAN:
That was an indication of how wrong I think this current report is. It was conducted most unfairly. It came to conclusions about me and a lot of my colleagues without those suggestions ever having been put to us, without us ever having been interviewed, without any evidence being presented to us or being presented in the report. That brings about, I think, that sort of admittedly emotive reaction.

WARK:
You were sent the report on November 28th. You have been dealing with the aftermath of the Omagh bomb since 1998. Surely your response should have been more than one of talking about serious inaccuracies, but actually coming up with something concrete?

FLANAGAN:
My response has been to put together a team of officers to examine this line by line. That process is still going on. In the fullness of time I will present, particularly to the relatives, but also to the police board and to the Secretary of State, our indications of where this report is so seriously flawed.

WARK:
What about what you said in August - "It is preposterous to suggest we had prior intelligence which, if acted on, could have affected or avoided the disaster which was Omagh?" The ombudsman said

FLANAGAN:
I said that in December, that it is preposterous to say we had prior intelligence which, if acted upon, could have prevented the disaster of Omagh. I said it in August, and I say it here again tonight.

WARK:
Right, it's in that report - let me go through every detail with you. On 4th August, the police received the first warning in a ten minute phone call which gave details of an unspecified terrorist attack on Omagh on 15th August. That was not passed on to the divisional sub-commander in Omagh, as required by the force order. That was a mistake, wasn't it?

FLANAGAN:
First of all, it was a call purporting to come from the Continuity IRA. It talked about four AK-47 rifles and two rocket launchers

WARK:
But with respect, with respect

FLANAGAN:
And it talked about a spot two to three miles. Unspecified and unknown address outside Omagh, where an attack would be carried out.

WARK:
Can I interrupt, because this is very important

FLANAGAN:
Please, if you want the truth about this about this anonymous call, just listen for a second.

WARK:
Let me just say one thing about it. Your officer, and you are always defending your officers, who took that call thought it was of sufficient importance to drive to Enniskillen to pass the information on to Special Branch officers. Do you accept if he thought it was of sufficient importance, it should have been acted on?

FLANAGAN:
Of course he thought it was of sufficient importance. He did absolutely the right thing. He went to his supervisor in CID who said, "Let us have this assessed". The Special Branch officers, who are very experienced officers, looked at the individuals who had been named - they had no significant subversive traits whatsoever - and looked at the supposed intelligence. This was the Continuity IRA - an attack upon police involving two rocket launchers, four AK-47s would take six dedicated terrorists to be actively involved in using the weaponry and a whole range of other terrorists. That was an attack beyond the Continuity IRA's capability at that time. No such attack happened. And if that had been passed to the sub-divisional commander, the sub-divisional commander - Will you please let me answer the question. The sub-divisional commander would have taken action which would have resulted in fewer patrols on the ground. He would not have taken action that resulted in officers being deployed in fixed static points, thereby subjecting them to risk from gun or rocket attacks in some unknown location 2 to 3 miles outside Omagh. That is standard procedure for all our sub-divisions.

WARK:
It says in this report that when that kind of information is passed on through Special Branch, it is required to be passed on to the divisional sub-commander. That didn't happen. Although you say that officers would then, if they had been deployed, would not have been available elsewhere, the fact is the Omagh bomb happened?

FLANAGAN:
I think I know more about our internal instructions than you might know. This instruction about general threats - yes, it says when information is received about a general threat it should be passed to the sub-divisional commander, his or her deputy, or in their absence, the duty inspector. The purpose of that is so that the sub-divisional commander can decide on a threat message after consultation with Special Branch. The CID officers had already consulted with Special Branch. It's not a responsibility solely placed on Special Branch to then decide whether or not to inform the sub-divisional commander. All the officers involved must have decided that it did not merit further action.

WARK:
In that case

FLANAGAN:
I think that decision is absolutely justifiably.

WARK:
If that is absolutely justified, then you are absolutely dead against your own internal report on the Omagh bomb investigation by the RUC which said exactly the same thing, that that information should have been passed on to the divisional sub-commander. That is what your own report said.

FLANAGAN:
I'm not dead against my internal report. My own internal report was carried out by very experienced officers in whom I have the highest degree of trust. They did not say it should have been passed on. What they said, as a review of an investigation is supposed to do, is that perhaps this should be looked at, perhaps the intelligence should be examined, and perhaps the people named in that should be re-profiled. Even as we sit today, the truth is that we do not have the reasonable suspicions to go and arrest those people. They do not have subversive traces and they do not fit any of the other intelligence in this matter. It would be unlawful, without that reasonable suspicion, to go and arrest such people.

WARK:
You also had a contact with a police informant called Kevin Fulton, who said three days before the bomb that something was going to move in the north. Again, this wasn't acted on. This was an informant who you paid substantial financial rewards to, who you trusted, and yet his information was not passed on?

FLANAGAN:
That was an informant, at that time, in respect of whom monies had been paid for criminal intelligence. He was giving, at that stage, some subversive intelligence. The truth is, the report says if that intelligence had been acted upon, a number of things might have been possible. It names a number of people in respect of whom surveillance might have been conducted. In fact, surveillance was ongoing in respect of those people named. So, what Fulton gave would not have added one iota to already existing high-levels of covert and overt policing activity in that area, which was already subject to a whole range of high level threats.

WARK:
And yet, the six people named across the two warnings, none of them, according to the ombudsman report, have ever been interviewed. Given that you do not have the perpetrators of the Omagh bomb, why should people have confidence in your inquiries?

FLANAGAN:
Let people wait. This is an inquiry which involved the interview of 6,000 people, the recording of more than 4,000 statements, the analysis of some more than 500 million telephone calls. It involved 150 officers at the outset of the investigation. It has involved more than 30 forensic scientists. That is only the resources deployed in Northern Ireland. That takes no account of the resources deployed in the south by our colleagues there - a whole dimension of the operation not examined by the ombudsman, because the ombudsman doesn't have any remit there. We have arrested 22 people, I think. Our colleagues in the south have arrested more than 70 people and interviewed them. That investigation is still a very live investigation and is still being informed by our own internal review, which has been taken, and totally taken, out of context, and what appears to be critical, which are matters simply being thrown up to inform and enhance the ongoing investigation.

WARK:
Are you going to take legal action?

FLANAGAN:
I'm taking advice. That is a very distinct possibility and more a probability.

WARK:
Very briefly, Michael Gallagher, whose son was killed in Omagh, asked us tonight to ask you, will you go, as the ombudsman has done, to Omagh to explain yourself?

FLANAGAN:
I've been talking to Michael Gallagher this evening. I've been saying to him that I intend to do exactly that.

WARK:
Thank you very much.

[End of Interview]

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.


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