Did Omagh families' letter to John Reid get lost in the post?

08 July 2006

The Home Office says an Omagh families' request for a meeting about a warning withheld by MI5 has gone astray.

Families from the Omagh Support and Self-Help Group wrote to Home Secretary John Reid more than two months ago asking to speak to him about the secret agency's failure to warn the RUC that Omagh was a dissident republican target prior to the 1998 bomb.

But the Home Office said yesterday that it could not find a record of the letter, although additional searches were being conducted.
The families asked for the meeting because the head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, has refused to discuss the issue with them.

The Omagh group wants to know why an informer's warning was not shown to police until PSNI detectives discovered it in America.
Agent David Rupert, an American who infiltrated dissident republicans for the FBI, told MI5 agents in early 1998 that dissident republicans were planning an attack on Omagh or Londonderry.

The bomb team he identified was held and later released, and it is not thought they played any part in the attack later that year that killed 29 people, along with unborn twins.

However, MI5 did not tell the RUC about the Rupert warning.

And the Omagh families are concerned that police may have responded differently to other warnings if they knew that the town was a dissident target before the blast.

The warning is also believed to have been withheld from Mike Tonge, now the Chief Constable of Gwent, who reviewed the Omagh investigation for the Policing Board.

Attention has returned to the issue because MI5 is due to take over the management of anti-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland next year.

The Omagh families were told about the withheld material earlier this year. The warning had been discovered by PSNI detectives when the FBI allowed them to review Rupert's emails.

PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has said the Omagh investigation was not hampered by the failure to pass on the warning.

But he has not commented on what effect the warning might have had on police before the attack.

The Omagh families were rebuffed by Dame Eliza earlier this year. They wrote to Dr Reid on May 22, referring to her "continual refusal" to explain MI5's "failure to warn the then RUC of a bomb threat to the North West of Northern Ireland, including Omagh".

The families also want Dr Reid to shut down the website of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the political group associated with the Real IRA.

"As you are aware the Real IRA are placed on the American Foreign Terrorist list and despite repeated attempts to bring this to the Government's attention there has been no action," the letter said.

"It is for this reason we feel a meeting with yourself is important and we would welcome such a meeting as soon as possible."

The Omagh group has also asked to meet Secretary of State Peter Hain. They are due to talk to NIO officials about their concerns later this week.