Published Date: 06.12.2007
The Police Ombudsman's Office has upheld a complaint that police were wrong when they refused to initiate an investigation into suspicions of fraud in relation to money raised during charity football matches for those affected by the Omagh Bomb.
The Chairman of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, Michael Gallagher, made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman's Office in 2005 in which he alleged that despite several meetings with police, they had refused to investigate rumours of financial irregularity in relation to the charity football matches.
Three high-profile football matches took place during July, August and September of 1999, with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea football clubs taking part. The fixtures were seen as a resounding success and as a boost to the morale of the town following the bomb attack the previous summer. They also raised an amount reported to be in excess of £200,000.
Following these matches, rumours surfaced in the town that a high percentage of the money raised went missing or was unaccounted for. The rumours suggested that of the £200,000 raised by the matches, only £30,000 went to the Omagh Fund, the group formed to receive such monies.
In February 2001, members of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group began a series of meetings with the police in the town. They alleged that during these meetings they asked police to investigate allegations of fraud in relation to the monies raised and alleged that police refused to do so.
Mr Gallagher alleged that during a particular meeting on May 3 2001, at which three senior officers were present, he was told that police could not deal with his concerns, as he was not "an interested party."
The police officers present at this meeting do not agree with this account. One officer said he had told the Group that for an investigation to proceed police would need a written statement of complaint and that they refused to provide this. Another officer said that at no time during the meeting did anyone within the Group offer to provide such a statement.
The third officer, however, had a different recollection of what happened. He said the Group were asked to make a statement of complaint but declined to do so.
The Police Ombudsman's Acting Senior Director of Investigations, John Larkin, noted that the recollections of the officers who were present at the meeting were at odds, but said the outcome of that meeting was unambiguous. He said it was clear police had taken an early decision not to investigate Mr Gallagher's complaint:
This decision was clearly flawed. By not conducting even a preliminary enquiry the police decision prevented the potential to secure and preserve evidence that could have established the facts.
"The concerns which were being raised were of a serious nature and there was an issue of public interest that required investigation.
"By insisting that the Omagh Support and Self Help Group was not an 'interested party' the police were ruling out an investigation into allegations which had gripped the town and the media and become the subject of two major television documentaries. Clearly such an investigation, particularly given the background of the awful events of August 15 1998, was in the public interest.
"The Police Ombudsman acknowledges that in July 2005, following a complaint to this Office, the PSNI decided to instigate such an investigation into the allegations," he said.
That investigation is continuing.
The Police Ombudsman is to make a report to the Chief Constable containing recommendations for the PSNI to review how allegations of crime are assessed and dealt with.