Northern Ireland news

Police officers disciplined over bomb warning failings

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said police failures in a bomb warning investigation could have had "potentially fatal consequences." Picture by Hugh Russell 
John Monaghan

THE Police Ombudsman has said it was lucky no one was killed after officers failed to identify and warn the target of an impending bomb attack.

Three police officers have been disciplined for failures following an incident last year that the ombudsman said had "potentially fatal consequences".

A viable device, which did not go off and was later defused, was found about an hour after officers initially received information about it.

An investigation by the Police Ombudsman found that after receiving a call, police failed to make proper enquiries, identified an incorrect target and location and warned the wrong person.

An external organisation, which received the warning, tried to contact police but was unable to get through as the designated phone number had been left temporarily unmanned.

Two supervisory officers later admitted that they had had failed to arrange proper cover to ensure the phone would be answered.

The call was instead transferred to a lower ranking officer, who made enquiries to identify the target and location.

When interviewed, the officer accepted his enquiries of police records and computer systems were inadequate and as a result inaccurate information was passed to a police duty inspector.

The three officers were later disciplined, although the ombudsman's office said that the sanctions imposed on the two supervising officers by the PSNI were at a "lower level than that recommended" by the ombudsman.

Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire, said: "The outcome of this incident could have been very much more serious. The targets of this attack were, in effect, failed by the police."

"To prevent a recurrence, I have recommended that police put in place measures to ensure such calls are always answered immediately and dealt with appropriately."

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said: "An internal review was conducted following this incident and the matter was subsequently self-referred to the ombudsman. Procedures have been reviewed to ensure such failures do not occur again."

On Thursday, the Irish News revealed that more than one in five police officers had been recommended for disciplinary procedures in the past five years, at an average of 300 police officers every year.

In response to The Irish News story, the Police Federation called on the ombudsman to "show greater objectivity" in its investigation of complaints against officers.

PFNI chairman Mark Lindsay said: "It is unfortunate that many of my colleagues feel there is a witch-hunt against them by PONI. Referring 380 for 'sanctions' reflects the degree of scrutiny officers are constantly under, and the pressures they face in the real world.

"Officers are overworked, unable to plan to take time off and that affects them and their families.

"Officers are abused, attacked and made into a political football in our divided society. Perspective is important. Not only do officers do the routine work expected of them, but, uniquely, they have to contend with dissident republicans who want to kill them."

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