23 April 2006

Likely role of ex-Special Branch in bomb find


(Sharon O'Neill, Irish News)

The thwarting of a dissident republican bomb plot in Co Armagh highlighted the "importance of having good intelligence," the body which represents rank and file police officers said.

Special Branch – now known as C3, which is attached to the PSNI's Crime Operations branch – is highly likely to have been involved in the massive security operation in Lurgan on Wednesday.

Components for a 250lb car bomb – linked to the Continuity IRA – were recovered and four people, including a prominent businessman from the area, were arrested.

Over the years Special Branch has been embroiled in controversy.

Famously dubbed 'a force-within-a force' officers have been accused of colluding in murder and failing to pass on vital intelligence to their CID colleagues.

The 1999 Patten police reforms recommended that Special Branch be fully merged with CID.

The Crime Operations department, under which C3 now operates, was also set up as part of the Patten changes.

When stepping down as vice-chairman of the Policing Board, Denis Bradley reaffirmed his belief that the force-within-a-force image had now been dismantled.

However, the the past activities of Special Branch continue to come under scrutiny.

A number of recent cases has also kept it in the spotlight, including the roles of agent, former Sinn Féin official Denis Donaldson, who was shot dead earlier this month, and alleged informer, suspected IRA murder victim Gareth O'Connor, whose body was pulled from a Co Down canal in June last year.

However, the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said Wednesday's seizure showed the importance of the role of the PSNI's intelligence unit.

A spokesman said: "It illustrated the importance of having good intelligence capabilities if these attacks are to be thwarted. It [hte bomb] underlines the fact there remains a threat to people."

April 22, 2006

This article appeared first in the April 21, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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