Police should have warned about bomb

Incident Date: 31.08.1988

The police had information there was an IRA booby trap bomb in a property in the Creggan Estate in Derry/Londonderry but did nothing to warn those living there of the possible danger.

PDF: Full Public Statement

That is the main finding in a 67-page report published by the Police Ombudsman’s Office this morning and which catalogues in detail an investigation of events connected to the bombing.

The booby trap device exploded on Wednesday 31 August 1988, at 38 Kildrum Gardens in the Creggan area, killing Eugene Dalton and Sheila Lewis instantly. A third person, Gerard Curran, was injured and died seven months later.

The report addresses what it described as the enormous pressures on policing in the city at that time and how police planned their responses to terrorist incidents.

Police should have warned public about IRA bomb.

However, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that in this instance police did not fulfil their duty to protect the public, but he rejected a suggestion that this was prompted by a desire to protect an informant.

The Police Ombudsman’s investigation found that police were told five days before the explosion that a car abandoned in Kildrum Gardens was ‘convenient to a house’ which had been booby-trapped and that, if necessary, the terrorists planned to stage another incident to lure police to the property.

Three days before the explosion, police were aware that a document with the address of 38 Kildrum Gardens was dropped during the robbery of a local ‘chippy.’ At some time after 11am on 31 August, Mr Dalton, Mrs Lewis and Mr Curran had gone to 38 Kildrum Gardens, a top floor flat, concerned about the welfare of the man who lived there and whom they had not seen for a week.

They had been unaware that he had been abducted by the IRA. As they went inside the flat the device exploded. Dr Maguire said there is strong evidence that police had sufficient information that they ought to have known the bomb was in the vicinity of Kildrum Gardens, even if they could not be sure which property it was in.

Police ought to have known there was a bomb in Kildrum Gardens.

“We found no evidence of any effort to pinpoint the exact location of the device or to warn the people who lived in and frequented the area. The police placed the area ‘out of bounds’ to their officers. We have talked to former police officers and considered other things which were happening in the city at that time and which must have placed enormous pressures on policing. The safety of officers was obviously a critical concern and police were rightly very cautious in responding to such incidents.

The safety of officers was of critical concern and police were rightly cautious in responding.

However, police allowed a booby trap bomb to remain in a location which presented a very real risk to life. There was an obligation on police to protect the lives of the public and I have to conclude that they failed in this regard. They failed to do all that could reasonably have been expected of them in the circumstances.

That being said, let there be no doubt that the responsibility for the deaths rests with those who put the bomb there – the IRA,” he said.

Members of Mr Dalton’s family complained to the Police Ombudsman’s Office that police failed to warn people in the area and, in particular, failed to uphold their father’s right to life. They alleged that these failures were prompted by a desire to protect the identity of a police informant and also complained that police failed to investigate properly what had happened.

The Police Ombudsman said that his investigation was wide ranging, involved the interview of more than 40 people and recovered almost 400 documents related to the events.

Police records show that police received reliable information on 5 August, 1988 – three weeks before the explosion - that the IRA intended to place a booby trap bomb in a house in the city and to stage an incident designed to prompt officers to carry out follow-up enquiries, during which they would be the targets of the concealed bomb.

The police recorded information which they had received on 26 August 1988 that a car, believed to have been used in a terrorist attack the previous night and abandoned in Kildrum Gardens, had been left ‘convenient to a house’ which was booby-trapped and that, if necessary, the terrorists planned to stage another incident to lure police to the property.

Attempt to lure officers and investigation flawed and incomplete.

Records show that police treated the robbery at the ‘chippy’ on 28 August, during which a document with the address of 38 Kildrum Gardens was dropped, as a potential attempt to lure officers into a trap and decided to delay going to the address.

With regard to the allegation that police did not investigate the bombing properly, the Police Ombudsman said the RUC investigation involved a range of activities but said he had to conclude that it was flawed and incomplete: “My staff found evidence that there was an initial flurry of activity by officers investigating the bombing, but that within a short period this was scaled down and lost focus. I am aware of the enormous and competing pressures on policing then, but by the standards of the time this was an inadequate investigation,” he said.

Dr. Maguire said that current police procedures for dealing with security incidents are very different: “I note that police response to such threats today is much more inclusive of the community” he said.

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