There are fears of continuing ‘dirty tricks’ by the PSNI police after it emerged that four members of its intelligence division concealed information about an attack in which a Catholic member of the force was injured almost six years ago.
In a new report published by the Police Ombudsman, it has been recommended that disciplinary sanctions be taken against four Special Branch members who refused to pass on information about the attack and who otherwise obstructed the investigation.
The report has reinforced the belief that PSNI’s C3 unit (formerly RUC Special Branch) may still be allowing potentially fatal attacks to proceed for reasons of “national security”.
Ombudsman Michael Maguire said he found “insufficient” evidence to prove the 2010 attack on Peadar Haffron could have been prevented. But his statement echoed the results of previous investigations in which British state forces were found to have been aware of planned IRA attacks and failed to intercept them for their own military and/or propaganda purposes.
In 1998, a ‘Real IRA’ car bomb detonated with devastating effect in Omagh, County Tyrone after telephoned warnings failed to clear the area, killing 29 civilians and all but wrecking the group’s armed campaign. It later emerged that the vehicle and mobile telephones of those involved had been tracked and monitored on the day of the attack.
It has now emerged that investigators looking into the attack on Heffron were stonewalled by the PSNI Special Branch for more than two years. When told a Police Ombudsman investigation was taking place, they admitted that they had been aware of the planned attack but claimed that the information on its location had not been precise enough to prevent it.
The injury to Heffron, an Irish-speaking Catholic, created a media backlash against the breakaway IRA groups across Ireland as well as in Irish-America. The well-known Gaelic football player lost a leg as a result of the explosion near his home in Randalstown, County Antrim.
Another Catholic PSNI member, Ronan Kerr, died in a similar attack near Omagh some 14 months later. No-one has ever been charged in regard to either attack.
Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan said the PSNI chief George Hamilton has serious questions to answer over the findings of the report. He also expressed concern at the force’s failure to implement the recommended sanctions against the Special Branch figures involved.
“The activities of C3 in this case are reminiscent of the bad policing we experienced in the past. There is an onus on the Chief Constable to take action to improve public confidence in policing,” he said.
“The Police Ombudsman, in his role of holding the police to account, recommended a course of disciplinary action against the officers involved.
“However, a senior PSNI officer then decided to reduce those sanctions in relation to two officers and further sanctions in relation to two others have yet to be acted on.
“This is totally unacceptable and the PSNI must explain why this decision was taken. The Chief Constable also needs to take action and implement the recommendations of the Police Ombudsman.
“Sinn Fein will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Police Ombudsman to discuss the implications of this report.”