The PSNI police took almost two hours to respond to a bomb alert in Newry on Saturday, raising fresh questions over the force’s attitude towards the civilian population in the North of Ireland.
On Saturday night, two masked men placed a suspect device in a taxi at the Derrybeg housing estate in the County Armagh town.
Initial reports claimed the taxi had been hijacked, although the owner of the taxi firm, Ian Murtagh, later said that it was in fact the taxi driver who had abandoned the vehicle.
The taxi containing the suspect device was left on a public road near the main Belfast-Dublin motorway, away from housing. The driver then called the police every fifteen minutes, but almost two hours went past without a patrol car arriving at the scene. Believing the device to be a potential car bomb, and in the absence of a police response, residents from the nearby Martin’s Lane took it into their own hands to divert road traffic away from the taxi.
After a long wait, the PSNI eventually arrived and ordered a late night evacuation of twenty homes in the area. British Army bomb experts declared the device to be a hoax shortly before 3am on Sunday.
Locals have been dismissive of PSNI claims that the extraordinary delay was because they feared a potential ambush. A woman who gave her name as Rosemary said her daughter lived close to the alert scene.
“Police were not there for an hour and 45 minutes. I cannot understand why they didn’t respond when they received the first phone call. This is a question that the police will have to answer to the residents,” she said.
“All the families with their children had to pass this vehicle to get out of the estate. A taxi driver blocked one end of the road so that no vehicles could come up, we blocked the other end so that no vehicles could come down. We should not have had to do that. That was up to the police force.
“When they arrived they did do what they had to, but it took them too long to do it.”
This was the second alert in the Newry area in two days. On Friday, a bomb was reportedly found nearby at the Cloughogue roundabout in the town. The PSNI said the device, also near the main A1 road, contained a “significant amount of explosives”.
No group has claimed responsibility for either incident.
The scenes of the two alerts were both just a short distance from the A1 underpass where a 500lb bomb was abandoned in a van, exactly a year ago. At that time, the PSNI were again forced to defend their response when hundreds of motorists were allowed to drive past the device.