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Press Release by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, (20 February 2009)

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Text: Police Ombudsman ... Page compiled: Martin Melaugh

Press Release by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, (20 February 2009)


Friday, 20 February 2009

An investigation by the Police Ombudsman's Office has found that the presentation of a photograph to the judge at the Omagh bomb trial with respect to the discovery of an unexploded mortar bomb at Altmore Forest led him to conclude that two police witnesses had not told the truth about forensic precautions taken at the scene. In fact, as a police witness had claimed, the photograph had been taken later than was thought. The prosecution had sought to link the device with the bombing of Omagh.

This is one of the findings of a Police Ombudsman investigation arising from the trial in 2006 of a man on a series of terrorist charges, some of which were related to the Omagh Bombing. The man was found not guilty on all charges.

The Police Ombudsman's Office forwarded a file on its investigation to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) last year. The PPS has formally confirmed that neither officer is to be prosecuted and has said a third officer will not be prosecuted in respect of non-disclosure issues.

The Police Ombudsman's investigation was initiated after police referred to the Office issues which had emerged during the trial. In his summing up, the trial judge said he believed that two police witnesses had not told the truth in their evidence and later he said he found "deliberate and calculated deception in which others concerned in the investigation and preparation of this case for trial beyond these two witnesses may also have played a part".

The trial judge said the testimony of the police witnesses that proper forensic precautions were taken at the scene of the unexploded mortar bomb was disproved by a photograph presented to him - the only photograph of the witnesses at the scene - in which neither were wearing full forensic clothing.

The Police Ombudsman investigation has established that the photograph upon which the judge was basing his comments was taken after all the forensic work had been completed. Mr Hutchinson said his investigators spoke to police and military personnel who were at the scene and examined all records, both those presented to the court and other material.

"A military specialist at the scene told us one of his last actions was to close the tailgate of the van from which they had gathered the evidence. In the photograph where the witnesses are not wearing the proper forensic clothing, the van's rear tailgate had been closed and it had been moved from its position in earlier photographs. In another photograph, the bagged exhibits can be seen through the window of the closed tailgate. The military specialist also confirmed that no one else entered the scene while he secured and packaged the exhibits.

The information the officers gave to the court about the forensic precautions taken at the scene of the mortar bomb was accurate, although confused", he said.

With respect to the written statements of the two police witnesses, the Police Ombudsman investigation established that the actual content of those statements was correct. However, it confirmed that part of the two police witnesses' evidence about when and how their statements had been made was not accurate.One officer said she had made only one statement, but then acknowledged she must have made two when a first, less detailed version was introduced. The other police witness told the court he had made only one statement but also conceded to a second, when a first less detailed version was introduced by the defence.

The Police Ombudsman's investigation also established that the Omagh Enquiry Team at one point had both versions of one of the statements but did not initially disclose both to the court. It concluded that this was due to an administrative oversight. The investigation confirmed that documents have been lost and that police were not operating to the generally accepted practice for updating statements.Mr Hutchinson said his investigation addressed the allegation by defence counsel that police witnesses had 'beefed up' their evidence:

"If by the term 'beefing up' it is meant to suggest that police officers added untrue information to their statements, then we have found no evidence that police statements were 'beefed up' by the two officers in question or by any others. We did find, however, that factually correct information was added to statements. I must also conclude that the two police officers were confused in the evidence they gave to the court", he said.

The Police Ombudsman has identified a number of issues and failings that require further consideration. These relate to case preparation, documentation and disclosure. They will be the subject of a further report and recommendations to the Chief Constable.


The Police Ombudsman's Office has made available a more complete Public Statement, which outlines the main findings from the investigation. This is available here.
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