Police Ombudsman says police did not protect residents

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire has said the police did not warn residents that a bomb had been left on their estate

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Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire has said the police did not warn residents in Londonderry that an IRA bomb that later killed three people had been left in a house on their estate.

The booby-trap device exploded at 38 Kildrum Gardens in the Creggan on 31 August 1988.

Two people died in the explosion. A third person, who was injured, died seven months later.

Dr Maguire, said police did not fulfil their duty to protect the public.

However, he said this was not prompted by a desire to protect an informant.

Eugene Dalton, who was 55, and Sheila Lewis, who was 60, died in the explosion.

Another man, Gerard Curran, died the following year from his injuries.

The Police Ombudsman's investigation found that three weeks before the explosion, police records showed police received "reliable information" that the IRA intended to place a booby-trap bomb in a house in the city.

This was designed to prompt officers to carry out follow-up enquiries, during which they would be the targets of the concealed bomb.

The ombudsman found that police were told five days before the explosion that a car abandoned in Kildrum Gardens was "convenient to a house" that had been booby-trapped and that, if necessary, the terrorists planned to stage another incident to lure police to the property.

Trap

Three days before the explosion, police were aware that a document with the address of 38 Kildrum Gardens was dropped during a robbery at a local chip shop.

Records show that police treated the robbery as a "potential attempt" to lure officers into a trap and decided to delay going to the address.

Some time after 11:00 BST on 31 August, Mr Dalton, Mrs Lewis and Mr Curran had gone to 38 Kildrum Gardens, a top floor flat, concerned about the welfare of the man who lived there and whom they had not seen for a week.

They were unaware that he had been abducted by the IRA. As they went inside the flat the device exploded.

Dr Maguire said there was "strong evidence" the police had sufficient information that they ought to have known the bomb was in the vicinity of Kildrum Gardens, even if they could not be sure which property it was in.

"We found no evidence of any effort to pinpoint the exact location of the device or to warn the people who lived in and frequented the area," he said.

"The police placed the area 'out of bounds' to their officers."

Dr Maguire said in compiling his report, staff had talked to former police officers and considered other things that were happening in the city at that time, which, he said, "must have placed enormous pressures on policing".

'Risk to life'

"The safety of officers was obviously a critical concern and police were rightly very cautious in responding to such incidents," he said.

"However, police allowed a booby-trap bomb to remain in a location which presented a very real risk to life. There was an obligation on police to protect the lives of the public and I have to conclude that they failed in this regard.

"They failed to do all that could reasonably have been expected of them in the circumstances.

"That being said, let there be no doubt that the responsibility for the deaths rests with those who put the bomb there - the IRA."

An investigation was launched after members of Mr Dalton's family complained to the Police Ombudsman's office that police had failed to warn people in the area and, in particular, failed to uphold their father's right to life.

The family alleged these failures were prompted by a desire to protect the identity of a police informant and also complained that police failed to investigate properly what had happened.

With regard to the allegation that police did not investigate the bombing properly, the Police Ombudsman said the RUC investigation involved a range of activities but said he had to conclude that it was "flawed and incomplete".

"My staff found evidence that there was an initial flurry of activity by officers investigating the bombing, but that within a short period this was scaled down and lost focus," he said.

"I am aware of the enormous and competing pressures on policing then, but by the standards of the time this was an inadequate investigation."

Dr Maguire said the current police procedures for dealing with security incidents were "very different".

"I note that police response to such threats today is much more inclusive of the community," he added.

The Police Ombudsman said his investigation was "wide ranging", involved the interview of more than 40 people and recovered almost 400 documents related to the events.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie said: "For police officers, whose duty it is to protect life, there is a deep and sincere sorrow for the loss of the lives of Eugene Dalton, Sheila Lewis and Gerard Curran.

"To their friends and families, on behalf of the police service I am truly sorry for the loss of their loved ones.

"The Police Ombudsman has been clear from the outset that the responsibility for the deaths of Mr Dalton, Mrs Lewis and the injuries to Mr Curran rests with those who planted the bomb.

"I would make a renewed appeal for the people who know who did this to come forward with information."

"Today, the policing response to a threat to life would be very different," she added.

DCC Gillespie said it was "disappointing that a number of retired officers felt unable to engage with the Police Ombudsman's investigation in a way which would have painted a fuller picture and enabled a greater understanding of the challenging and dangerous world in which they were operating."

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