Committee refused access to intelligence report on Omagh bombing

July 14, 2009 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

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The Northern Ireland Affairs Committte has said the government’s repeated refusal to allow them to see the Gibson review of intelligence intercepts means they cannot do their job properly.

The committee said the report should be shown to them as part of their inquiry into the Omagh bombing.

In August 1998 members of the Real IRA exploded a car bomb in the Tyrone town of Omagh.

29 people and two unborn babies died in the bombing, the single worst atrocity committed during or after the period commonly known as the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Several hundred were injured, more than 250 of whom were taken to hospital. No one has been successfully convicted in relation to the bombing.

On 15 September 2008, a BBC Panorama programme, “Omagh: what the police were never told”, suggested that the Government’s Communications HQ at Cheltenham (GCHQ) had tracked mobile telephones belonging to some of the alleged bombers.

The programme suggested that intercept intelligence was not passed to the police sufficiently promptly to assist detectives investigating the bombing in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Two days after the broadcast, the Prime Minister asked Sir Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, to “review any intercepted intelligence material available to the security and intelligence agencies in relation to the Omagh bombing and how this intelligence was shared”.

Sir Peter provided a full, classified report to the Prime Minister before Christmas 2008, and a summary version was published on 21 January 2009.

Sir Peter concluded that “to the extent that any relevant intelligence was derived from interception, it was shared with RUC HQ and Special Branch South promptly and fully”, and that any “intelligence derived from interception as might have existed could not have prevented the bombing.”

Sir Peter explained that his full report to the Prime Minister contained material that “if released more widely, would reveal information on the capabilities of our security and intelligence agencies. Knowledge of these capabilities would benefit those who currently seek to cause harm”.

The Prime Minister has turned down requests for access three times.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward and Cabinet Office Minister Tessa Jowell have also refused to let the Committee’s Chairman, Sir Patrick Cormack, see the review.

Sir Patrick said:

“The Omagh bombing was the single worst atrocity in Northern Ireland.

“Sir Peter’s review is one of the most important documents relating to that atrocity. Parliament has been refused access to that document.

“We do not doubt that Sir Peter’s summary is an accurate reflection of his full report.

“We wish, none the less, to satisfy ourselves that that is so, and he has himself said that he would be content for us to do so.

“The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has offered the Prime Minister every safeguard by waiving the right of all its 13 members to read the report and asking that I should be able to read it on their behalf, under supervision and without taking notes, and with my word that its contents will remain entirely confidential.

“We cannot properly conduct our work in relation to Omagh unless we are fully informed of the facts surrounding the bombing.

“It really is an insult to the Select Committee that its Chairman should not be allowed to see this report.”

The committee’s report calls on the Prime Minister to be as “open and helpful as possible with Select Committees”, and to “consider whether the information could be provided on a confidential basis” to our Chairman on the Committee’s behalf.”

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