Police could not have prevented IRA mortar attack

Published Date: 30.09.2021

The Police Ombudsman has found no evidence that police were in possession of information which, if acted upon, could have prevented an IRA mortar attack in Newry 1992 in which a police officer was killed and another received life-changing injuries. 

PDF: Public Statement

That is the key finding from a Police Ombudsman investigation into complaints from the officers’ families, which are contained in a report published this morning.

Constable Colleen McMurray was in a police car which was hit by a mortar bomb as it travelled along Merchants Quay beside the canal in Newry on the night on 27 March 1992.  She was taken to hospital but died later. Police Officer 1, who had been driving the car, suffered life-changing injuries.

Constable Colleen McMurrayConstable Colleen McMurray
Constable McMurray and Police Officer 1 were returning to Corry Square Police Station after providing security support to officers entering the town for a change of shift, while also providing routine community policing. It was standard operational practice at the time for RUC officers to provide this security support for their colleagues.

In seeking answers to questions about what police knew before the attack, the Police Ombudsman also identified that RUC Special Branch did not provide colleagues with information about people it suspected were in the IRA and may have been involved in the attack.

Mrs Anderson has said this had the effect of undermining the RUC investigation, with several people never being treated as suspects.

“Special Branch had significant intelligence about Person A’s possible role in the development of detonation technology and possible links to previous IRA activity. In my view he ought to have been treated as a suspect but I have not been able to identify any legitimate reason why this did not happen,” said Mrs Anderson.
The Police Ombudsman also identified failings in the RUC investigation of Constable McMurray’s murder and the attempted murder of Police Officer 1. These included deficiencies in suspect and arrest strategies, failures to investigate evidential opportunities and failures to link prior attacks, which also involved the use of ‘flash initiated’ technology.

The Police Ombudsman’s investigators interviewed more than 90 witnesses, including 35 retired police officers.

Mrs Anderson established that, from the outset, the CID suspect strategy relied heavily on the intelligence held within Special Branch.

However, she found that the dissemination of information from Special Branch to the RUC investigation team was inconsistent.

The investigation also established that the attack occurred when Constable McMurray and Police Officer 1 were carrying out routine policing duties and serving their community in circumstances where the threat level in Newry was high.

Mrs Anderson said: “The dedication of many police officers, often at great personal risk, to protect the public and their colleagues, represents high standards of professionalism.”

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