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Northern Ireland Policing Board: Specially Convened Meetings to Discuss the Omagh Reports, 5th and 7th of February 2002



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Text Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) ... Page Compiled: Brendan Lynn

Specially Convened Meetings Of The Policing Board To Discuss The Omagh Reports
Tuesday 5th and Thursday 7th of February 2002

On Saturday 15th August 1998, at approximately 3.05 pm, a terrorist bomb exploded in the centre of Omagh. This atrocity killed 29 people and 2 unborn children. Some 250 people were injured, many seriously. In addition, untold others have been deeply affected by the horror of what happened on that day.
It is difficult to begin to comprehend the immense suffering inflicted by that act of depravity. What is understandable is the pain, anger and frustrations of those who have had to cope, and try to come to terms with the aftermath.

Members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, along with the wider community in Northern Ireland, acknowledge this reality. The Board also acknowledges that the recently published report by the Police Ombudsman followed by the response from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and widespread media coverage and speculation, have undoubtedly exacerbated the feelings of all who have been affected by what was one of the worst terrorist incidents since the start of the troubles in 1969.

As the result of the discussions between the Board, the Police Ombudsman and the Chief Constable, it was recognised by all parties that, on the basis of the information available, the Omagh Bombing could not have been prevented. This, however, can be of little comfort to all those who have been affected.

Background to Report of the Police Ombudsman

On 29th July 2001, a Sunday newspaper carried, as its lead story, revelations and allegations from a man claiming to be a former British security force agent. Within this article it was purported that the Omagh bombing could have been prevented had the police acted upon information which he had allegedly provided to them.

On 14th August 2001 the Police Ombudsman informed the Police Service of Northern Ireland that she had decided to carry out a formal investigation as to whether any information of relevance to the bombing was available to the RUC prior to the Omagh Bomb, and if such information did exist, whether it had been responded to appropriately by the RUC.

On the 19th September 2001, the scope of the investigation was extended to include whether intelligence held by the RUC was correctly revealed to, and exploited by, the Omagh Bomb Investigation Team and whether the evidential opportunities contained within the Omagh Bomb Review Report have been investigated.On Wednesday 12th December 2001, the Police Ombudsman presented to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, a Report under Regulation 20 of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Complaints) Regulations 2000. This Report contained matters of public interest relating to material issues preceding and following the Omagh Bomb on 15 August 1998.

Copies of the Report were also sent to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Police Service of Northern Ireland

On Tuesday 22nd January 2002, the Chief Constable delivered to the Northern Ireland Policing Board the Police Service of Northern Irelandís response to the Police Ombudsmanís Report into the Omagh bombing.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board

The Northern Ireland Policing Board was established on 4th November 2001 and draws its powers from the Police (NI) Act 2000.

The Board has a responsibility to ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is effective and efficient. In carrying out its functions, the Board must also hold the Chief Constable to account for the exercise of his functions and in doing so ensure that the general duty of police officers is met.

These are:

(a) To protect life and property.
(b) To prevent the commission of offences.
(c) When an offence has been committed to take measures to bring the offender
to justice.

The Policing Board also has a responsibility to the Northern Ireland community. The community has a right to know what their Police Service is doing and how it is performing. It is also important that the community has real influence over the way it is policed and that effective systems are in place to make the police accountable for their actions.
However, these rights must be balanced with the right of the Chief Constable to have operational responsibility Ė in other words he must be able to act independently without being controlled by Government. But he must answer for his actions. Creating this balance is what effective police accountability is all about and this is the job of the Policing Board.

It is within this remit that the Board has considered the Omagh reports.

Policing Board Response

On Tuesday 5th and Thursday 7th February 2002, Members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board met to discuss the Police Ombudsmanís Report into the Omagh bombing and the Police Service of Northern Irelandís response to this Report.

The Board met individually with the Police Ombudsman and the Chief Constable to discuss the reports and held full and frank discussions with both parties. The Board also afforded both the opportunity to elaborate on and explain their reports. This was followed by a question and answer session during which Board Members discussed many issues in more detail.

Policing Board Considerations in respect of relationships between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Police Ombudsmanís Office

The Policing Board believes that arising from the Police Ombudsmanís report and the response of the Chief Constable there are a number of issues which require independent review and consideration.
These issues centre around the relationships and protocols between all of the parties involved in the new policing arrangements.

It is clear that the handling of certain aspects has caused hurt to others.
The Board considers that lessons can be learned for the handling of such issues in the future and the Board will work to ensure these are addressed.

Accordingly the Board will discuss with all parties including Government how to develop best working relationships and all measures and procedures so to do.

These include arrangements for appropriate review of draft reports, as to factual accuracy, and for individuals to see and respond to content as necessary before circulation of the final report.

The Board also considers that, as with current policing arrangements, there should be a review mechanism for the work of the Police Ombudsman. 7. Policing Board Recommendations
The Omagh Bomb Investigation

The Board commends the dedication and continued commitment of PSNI officers in seeking to secure evidence against those who planted the Omagh Bomb and believes that the full cooperation of the community and all public representatives is vital if convictions are to be secured. As this investigation is conducted in both jurisdictions and many of the perpetrators are believed to reside in the Republic of Ireland, we recognise that full cooperation with An Garda Siochana must continue.

The Board believes that continuity in the investigation is essential.

Nonetheless, in order to satisfy itself and wider opinion that all the lessons of the Omagh investigation have been learnt, and to maximise the opportunities for prosecutions, the Board has decided to appoint a Deputy Chief Constable or Assistant Chief Constable from another police service to fulfil the role described at paragraph A below.

The Board believes the following model can achieve these aims.

Paragraph A

A Board appointed Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) or Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) who will have, without operational control, an overview of all matters and terms of reference that include the following:

- To critically examine the resource and skill levels needed to satisfactorily conclude the investigation
- To undertake a quality assurance role, with particular reference to the content of the Omagh Bomb Review Report
- To monitor progress in the investigation including implementation of the Omagh Bomb Review Report
- To enhance further working practices with An Garda Siochana in relation to the Omagh Bomb investigation and linked inquiries
- To identify any obstacles standing in the way of progress
- To offer strategic guidance to the Board in relation to its responsibilities
- To report to the Policing Board at agreed intervals

The appointee will require regular contact with the SIO and the other External Senior Officer (ESO) whose role is described at paragraph C below. The Chief Constable should afford the appointee full cooperation in the discharge of his/her function and permit access to both members of the PSNI and information (intelligence or otherwise) in order that this may be achieved.

Paragraph B

A PSNI Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) will have operational command of the investigation, with a direct reporting line to the relevant ACC and the Chief Constable, and a reporting line, on matters under his terms of reference, to the DCC or ACC appointed by the Policing Board.

Paragraph C

The External Senior Officer (ESO) appointed by the PSNI, from another UK police service, will have responsibility for:

- Scrutinising the current enquiry and the Omagh Bomb Review report to ensure that all opportunities to gather evidence are maximised and that all recommendations relating to the Omagh investigation are fully addressed.
- Exploring any outstanding lines of enquiry into potentially linked incidents identified in the Omagh Bomb Review Report.
- Determining the relevance of the investigative opportunities presented in connection with similar offences perpetrated in Northern Ireland in 1998.
- Making decisions as to whether or not any such offences should be investigated separately or absorbed into the ongoing investigation.
- Determining whether or not the appointment of another officer to investigate these incidents is appropriate.
- Identifying any obstacles to progress.This ESO will be given direct access to the Chief Constable in respect of any matter of concern and will have a direct reporting line to the relevant ACC but also the Chief Constable as identified above.

Both the PSNI Senior Investigating Officer and the External Senior Officer will have equal status Ė i.e. neither one subordinate to the other.

The ESO should have access to all investigation relevant intelligence.
The Board believes that since unique circumstances demand unique solutions, these arrangements satisfy the joint requirements for continuity in the investigation whilst injecting crucial independent elements.

Review of Terrorist Linked Murder Inquiries

The Policing Board believes that the Police Service of Northern Ireland should now request Her Majestyís Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) to conduct a full review of terrorist linked murder inquiries with a view to reporting on structure, resources, strategies, policies, practices and processes. HMIC has indicated a willingness to conduct this review.

Murder Review Procedures

The Policing Board supports the adoption of the Association of Chief Police Officers policy with regard to murder reviews. This requires an early review into undetected murders. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has accepted this in principle. The Board will monitor progress on the implementation of this policy.

Management and Dissemination of Intelligence

The Policing Board fully accepts that there is a need for a Special Branch to enable the police to have the capability to counter terrorist threats.

The Board acknowledges that there are important issues around the structures and procedures for the management and dissemination of intelligence between Special Branch and other parts of the service.
The Policing Board is aware that the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Senior Officers have already taken considerable action in relation to the reorganisation of Special Branch.

In particular, the Policing Board notes that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has already agreed that Senior Investigating Officers should be given appropriate access to all relevant intelligence.
However, the Board believes that confidence in this process will be enhanced by a review into current structures and procedures for the management and dissemination of intelligence between Special Branch and other parts of the Police Service.

The Board has therefore requested HMIC to carry out a focused review into Special Branch as outlined above. This review will provide an independent scrutiny to assist the Board in assessing progress on these significant issues. This review report shall be forwarded to the Policing Board and the Chief Constable.

A Committee of the Board, assisted by a nominated Chief Officer from within the PSNI, will consider how, in practical terms, intelligence is managed and disseminated between Special Branch and other parts of the Service to ensure confidence.

Monitoring Arrangements

The Policing Board recognises that to ensure that these recommendations are managed effectively, monitoring arrangements must be implemented.

The Policing Board has agreed the following processes:

- A Committee of the Policing Board will monitor all follow-up action arising from the recommendations made and the Committee shall include the Board appointed DCC or ACC.
- This Committee will report regularly to the full Policing Board on progress against implementation of the recommendations and highlight any further action it deems to be necessary.
- An ACC nominated by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the new Policing Board appointee will report directly to the above Committee.
-The Board notes that this accountability process demands effective working relationships between all parties involved.
- The Board is confident that the mechanisms put in place will ensure an open and transparent process.
- The Board undertakes to keep the Omagh victims and relatives appraised of progress.

Final Comments
The Omagh Bomb Review Report was commissioned by the Chief Constable and carried out by a team of Police Service of Northern Ireland officers under the command of Chief Superintendent McVicker.
They are to be congratulated on an excellent piece of work.

Members of the Policing Board thank the Chief Constable and the Police Ombudsman for their cooperation during this process.

The Board also wishes to record its appreciation to Her Majestyís Inspector of Constabulary, Mr Dan Crompton, for his advice and support in dealing with these sensitive and difficult issues.

The Board acknowledges that lessons have been learned on all sides in relation to this process but believes that these will serve to enhance the true professionalism and service of all officers within the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board remains committed to ensuring that accountability and transparency are the foundations of our policing service.

It remains the Boardís deep regret that there are those within our society who have the will to shatter ordinary peopleís lives through such mindless acts of terrorism. We should never forget the human loss and suffering that has been endured by so many as the result of such acts.

 


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