Published Date: 18.12.2015
An investigation by the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has found insufficient evidence to support an allegation that a piece of information given to police, if acted upon, could have prevented the bomb attack on the former PSNI Constable Peadar Heffron in 2010.
PDF : Full Public Statement
However, Dr. Maguire has recommended that four police officers - two Superintendents and two Sergeants - from the PSNI’s C3 unit, which is primarily responsible for receiving and managing intelligence, be disciplined following a failure to pass on information to the detectives investigating the attack.
Constable Heffron was seriously injured on 8 January 2010 when a bomb exploded under his car as he travelled on the Milltown Road in Randalstown.
The Police Ombudsman received a complaint from a man who said that several weeks prior to this, police had received information there was to be a bomb attack on police officers at ‘Milltown,’ which if acted upon, could have prevented what happened.
Police Ombudsman investigators spoke to the man who provided information to police. He said he had received a text message warning him of the attack and said he in turn then sent a text message to police.
The man did not retain the text he received nor the one he sent to police, and did not have any other notes or records from the time.
The man told Police Ombudsman investigators that to the best of his memory, the text he sent to police said: ‘Attack on police officers- Milltown- urgent.”
He said he believed that the ‘Milltown’ referred to in the original text he received was Milltown in west Belfast, but said he did not specify this in the text he sent to police.
The man said that following the bomb attack, police contacted him to say they had checked all MIlltowns but ‘missed out on Randaltown.’
Police Ombudsman investigators then spoke to the police officer who was said to have received the text. He said he recorded the content verbatim before deleting it .
This officer said the text specified Milltown in Andersontown. He said he then issued a warning to all police officers in west Belfast.
The officer denied contacting the person who had sent the message to say police had ‘missed out on Randalstown’: he said it was this person who contacted him to apologise for incorrectly interpreting ‘Milltown’ as being the one in Andersonstown.
The Police Ombudsman has also considered other documentation relevant to this issue and has concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, police were told the impending attack was to be in Belfast and not Randalstown.
During the course of this investigation, Police Ombudsman staff became concerned that detectives investigating the attack on Constable Heffron were not getting the help they needed from PSNI C3.
They interviewed a number of senior police officers within C3, including several Superintendents. Two of these officers said they had supplied information to the detectives within weeks of the attack. Another said he believed the information had been provided.
Dr Maguire said C3 has been unable to provide any documentation or other evidence to confirm that the detectives received the information they had been asking for at an early stage of the investigation.
He concluded that a delay of more than two years in providing detectives with information they wanted, and to then make it available a matter of weeks after hearing of his involvement, was not acceptable:
“I acknowledge that the information the detectives sought did not lead to significant new evidence. Despite this, the delay in waiting to asses this information lost momentum for the investigation.
Police policy requires that investigators are provided with intelligence at the earliest opportunity. They are the people best placed to develop lines of enquiry that may translate into evidence, which could otherwise be lost by delay. This case demonstrates clear shortcoming in this regard.”
The Police Ombudsman has recommended that four police officers – two Detective Superintendents and two Detective Sergeants - be disciplined.