08 March 2006

MI5 head refuses to meet families of Omagh victims

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
08 March 2006

The head of MI5 has rebuffed a request for a meeting with Omagh survivors and the families of victims.

The Omagh Support and Self-Help Group received a letter yesterday from Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of the Security Service, saying she is "unclear as to why the group should wish to meet me".

The group asked for the meeting before the PSNI revealed that her agency did not pass on intelligence to the RUC - a dispute to which she referred in yesterday's letter.

Now the head of the group, Michael Gallagher, said it is more incumbent on her to listen to the families' concerns.

Last month, PSNI officers told the families that MI5 did not tell the RUC about a warning that Omagh was a dissident republican target - four months before the blast that killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.

The revelation - discovered in American files - came in the middle of a transition that will see MI5 take over national security responsibility from the PSNI.

Last week, Sir Hugh Orde told the Policing Board that the MI5 information would not have helped the inquiry into the murder, but he would not comment directly on how it may have served as a warning.

In her letter, Ms Manningham-Buller said she regrets the distress the situation has caused the families.

"It might seem odd if I did not touch on the recent publicity over the Omagh bombing," she wrote.

"The Chief Constable made a clear statement to the Policing Board on the 1st of March that the Security Service did not withhold intelligence that was relevant or would have progressed the Omagh inquiry. I have nothing to add.

"I recognise that these allegations aired in the media are likely to have caused concern and much regret the added distress this will have caused the Omagh families."

Mr Gallagher, whose son died in the bombing, said the group will continue to insist it meets with the head of MI5.

"There have been concerns raised in the public domain. The least she can do is meet the families, listen to what they have to say, and respond to them. That's all we're asking her to do," he said.

"This is a lady who is no more important than the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach and they haven't refused to meet us.

"We are not saying that MI5 was holding back information that may have helped the Omagh inquiry.

"They withheld information that may or may not have changed the outcome of August 15. "The RUC had the right to that information and they had the right to every chance to try and avert what happened."

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