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Flanagan to resign at end of February

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

BELFAST — Ronnie Flanagan, chief constable of the newly formed Police Service of Northern Ireland, is expected to resign on Feb. 28, after his recent interview with the Police Board over the police handling of the Omagh bombing during which a “majority on the board are believed to have moved against him.

“He came off much worse than O’Loan,” said a reliable source, referring to Nuala O’Loan, the ombudswoman. Both Flanagan and O’Loan went before the board after her office published a scathing report on the investigation into the August 1998 bombing, the worst single atrocity in the history of the Troubles.

The chief constable tendered his three-month notice at the end of November. But in December, after the bitter row blew up with O’Loan over her critique of the Omagh investigation, he indicated was willing to stay on until at least September 2002.

However, following the interview, during which Flanagan defended his handling of the investigation, he did not ask the board to extend his stay until September, as originally planned.

“The board has not been asked that the resignation be withdrawn,” a member of the board said. Flanagan is said to know the mind of the 19-member board, who feel strongly that it is in his best interests that he resign as scheduled.

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A spokesman for the chief constable would only say that it was a matter for the policing board, but agreed that Flanagan was willing to stay on until a replacement was found. However, it is likely that he will be replaced temporarily by his deputy chief constable, Colin Cramphorne.

Flanagan is believed to have applied for a new job as one of Her Majesty’s inspectors of constabulary.

Flanagan’s resignation also comes amid suggestions of a burgeoning personal crisis for the 52-year-old officer, who is married with three sons.

Meanwhile, after three days of intense negotiations, Northern Ireland’s new Police Board has agreed on fresh proposals for the Omagh inquiry, which they hope will chart a radical way out of the bitter row that has engulfed the chief constable and the ombudsman.

Flanagan said he had “no problem” with the Police Board proposals, while O’Loan also “generally welcomed” them with “reservations”.

The SDLP hailed the proposals as proof it was correct to take its seats on the board, and that police officers are now accountable to the people they serve. The party’s Alex Attwood, who serves on the board, said it was another case of his party getting “stuck in” and achieving change while Sinn Fein stood on the sidelines, complaining loudly but achieving nothing.

“They have been proved wrong”, he said. “Going onto the Board has meant real change and staying outside has changed nothing.”

Sinn Fein’s spokesman on policing, Gerry Kelly, said the SDLP had “rolled over.”

“I am not surprised that Ronnie Flanagan welcomes the board’s findings,” Kelly said. “His report is not rebuffed nor is his control and authority challenged.”

After the three day-and-evening-long meetings, the Police Board decided, contrary to the ombudsman’s recommendation and wishes of the Omagh victims’ families, that the current head of the Omagh inquiry, chief superintendent Brian McArthur, should retain operational control, in accordance with Flanagan’s wishes. But it also agreed to call in a senior officer from a British police service to oversee the inquiry and to increase the responsibilities of a Merseyside detective, already appointed by Flanagan in a purely advisory role.

The board agreed that the bomb could not have been prevented on the basis of prior information but said there were lessons to be learned on all sides and proposed a review of the ombudsman’s office.

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