Sir Ronnie’s record – the book is not closed

Two landmark cases in the record of Sir Ronnie Flanagan as Chief Constable of the RUC have produced exonerating statements without getting to the bottom of the cases – the Omagh bomb and the murder of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson. Answering questions at the Nelson inquiry Sir Ronnie said: “I certainly did not consider Mrs Nelson to be a terrorist,” and he denied calling her “ an immoral woman.” It’s noteworthy though that the former civil service head of the NIO Sir Joe Pilling, according to counsel, had testified that Sir Ronnie raised the alleged affair of Mrs Nelson with a local Republican Colin Duffy with him.“I have no recollection of having discussed with Sir Joe Pilling about this matter,” said Sir Ronnie.

By itself this is a side issue, but it suggests the sort of complicity with republicans that made Mrs Nelson vulnerable and at best regarded with suspicion by police. We can imagine the canteen conversations.

In the latest Omagh ruling by the Intelligence Services Commissioner retired judge Sir Peter Gibson the intelligence services especially the electronic monitors of GCHQ are exonerated from failing to pass on any mobile phone activity by the bombers to Special Branch. Let’s recall Panorama’s claims. Reporter John Ware summarised them in a Daily Telegraph article last September headlined: “The words that might have saved Omagh.”

If GCHQ’s monitoring was “live”, as Special Branch had requested, then by this late stage, it should have been clear that there was a serious possibility that they were listening to a bomb run. Had they alerted Special Branch, it could have made all the difference: there are few routes in and out of Omagh, and these could have been blocked by checkpoints.

But nothing was passed on to the police. By 2.10pm, it was too late: according to the phone logs, the bomb car was inside the town.

In his report, Gibson says:

“I am satisfied that in the days surrounding 15th August and on the day itself, to the extent that any relevant intelligence was derived from interception, it was shared with RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] HQ and Special Branch South promptly and fully, and done so with the latter in accordance with procedures agreed with Special Branch South.”

“The portrayal in the Panorama programme of the tracking on a screen of the movement of two cars, a scout car and a car carrying a bomb, by reference to two “blobs” moving on a road map has no correspondence whatever with what intercepting agencies were able to do or did on 15 August 1998,” he said.

Panorama did not claim that two cars had been successfully tracked. In reply John Ware said he stood by his story and added that, in certain respects, Sir Peter’s was “highly selective and a little disingenuous”. He said it had not focused on the key theme of his programme – why detectives had not been given the information.

“Almost the entire report is focused on whether or not GCHQ intercepts could have prevented the bomb,” he told BBC Radio Ulster. “That was not the main nub of our programme – it was an important part of our programme, but the nub was why the detectives at the end of the intelligence food chain, so to speak, did not get all of the information that had been available to GCHQ.”

Part of the commissioner’s report was withheld “for security reasons”

  • Claudius Pulcher

    What has Rosemary Nelson’s relationship with Colin Duffy got to do with the head of the Civil Service?

  • Chris Donnelly

    …but it suggests the sort of complicity with republicans that made Mrs Nelson vulnerable and at best regarded with suspicion by police.

    Brian
    Or it suggests that the smear campaign was well underway prior to the planned assassination of Rosemary Nelson- Hogg’s carefully timed ‘unduly sympathetic’ remark prior to the Finucane killing springs to mind.

  • The Serpent

    1. What has Rosemary Nelson’s relationship with Colin Duffy got to do with the head of the Civil Service?

    Posted by Claudius Pulcher on Jan 21, 2009 @ 08:22 PM

    Sir Joseph Pilling was Permanent Under Secretary to the Northern Ireland Office from 1997 to 2005 and not the Head Of The Civil Service. Not withstanding that correction don’t we all love a wee bit of juicy gossip and no doubt that includes those in the higher ranks of public service?

  • joeCanuck

    Well that’s that then. The hand (cherry?) picked establishment guy says there is nothing fishy about the Omagh debacle. It is well known that the British Establishment never look after their own. So, nothing to see here. Move along folks.

  • runciter

    it suggests the sort of complicity with republicans that made Mrs Nelson vulnerable

    This is a strange sentence that implies that it was ‘a sort of complicity with republicans’ that made Nelson vulnerable.

    But mixing with Republicans is not ‘a sort of complicity’, since it is not a criminal act.

    It was rather the suggestion of complicity – for example in the sentence quoted above – that made her vulnerable.

  • latcheeco

    “complicity with republicans.”
    Classic Brian!
    That was good enough to have come from one of those old press releases from Theipval. Remember those? When pseudo-journalists were overly complicit with press officers.

  • RepublicanStones

    Brian, I have to agree with the other posters. The word ‘complicity’ is of in itself innuendo ridden and broad enough to appeal to the lowest common trogladyte who would seek justification for her untimely end. Nowhere before have I seen the word ‘complicity’ inferrred implied or mentioned. Don’t let your language cause you to fall from the fence you sit upon due to your principles. A lazy finger is no excuse for a lazy mind !

  • USA

    I wouldn’t trust this report, it exonerates by limiting its remit and without answering the questions asked.
    It’s not worth the paper its written on. A complete waste of time and money.
    Disgraceful.
    But the British are good at it, and too many of the local politicos are willing to protect “their” own side. Republicans protect republicans, Unionists protect Special Branch, the British protect their own, MI5/6 protect themselves.
    While the innocents of Omagh get fuck all. Who was protecting them?

  • USA

    Exact same applies in the Rosemary Nelson case, who was protecting her? Ronnie fucking Flannigan?
    Special Branch? RUC?
    State sponsored terror.

  • Brian Walker

    “Complicity”. Ah, here we’re into the pointillisme of ideological and theological debate that Sluggerites enjoy so much. I’m characterising one of those opinions typically held by anti-republicans which holds that association means complicity in doing bad things. Whether it’s justified or not. I think the word is OK in the context. In the interest of balance across the piece, I could point to the vulgar abuse of Ronnie Flanagan above but he can take care of himself. And besides, he’s alive.

  • Obvious question

    [play the ball – edited moderator]

  • edward

    revisionist history, isn’t just for the shinners

  • runciter

    I’m characterising one of those opinions typically held by anti-republicans which holds that association means complicity in doing bad things.

    Actually, you shamelessly restated ‘one of those those opinions’ as if it were a fact.

    Such reckless innuendo was almost certainly a factor in this woman’s murder. Would you be so careless if the subject were alive and in a position to address such slurs?

    It is also interesting that you – as an experienced professional journalist – regard accuracy in these matters as mere “pointillisme”.