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Pair injured in Newtown car bomb devastation

April 27, 2010


By Brónagh Murphy

Two people were taken to hospital after a car bomb exploded at Newtownhamilton police station shortly before 11.30pm on Thursday night.

Locals reported hearing shooting around an hour beforehand, the same time the vehicle containing the bomb was abandoned on Armagh Street.

A telephone call warning of the bomb was made to a Belfast hospital and police were en-route to the scene when it exploded.

Having been alerted by the shooting and the suspicious vehicle, firefighters from the town’s nearby fire station evacuated people from their homes and set up a cordon around the area.

Residents of the town say the Fire Service personnel were instrumental in saving lives as, had it not been for their quick actions, more people would almost certainly have been injured.

The casualties, a man and an elderly woman, are believed to have suffered minor injuries.

The blast was heard up to ten miles away and caused extensive damage to the town centre.  Windows were blown out of nearby buildings, while the community centre and a pub adjacent to the police station were extensively damaged.

Criticism

In the days following the bomb, there has been widespread criticism of the delayed police response to the attack.

Despite being warned almost an hour beforehand that a bomb had been left in the town, police were just on their way to the scene when the device exploded.

Instead, the task of evacuating residents and cordoning off the area fell to local firemen who were training in the town’s fire station at the time.

Locals described the firefighters as ‘heroes’ after they took control of the situation in the absence of police.

Area Commander of the PSNI, Sam Cordner, paid tribute to the firefighters and defended the police response to the incident.

“Fortunately, due to the swift actions of Fire Service personnel who happened to be in the area, loss of life was prevented,” Mr Cordner said.

“Response times in south Armagh are something we keep under constant review.  We are always seeking to respond faster to meet community demands in that area.  However, you will be aware that the threat in this area is severe and any police response needs to be measure and properly thought through.”

The north’s new Justice Minister, David Ford, said the bomb was ‘not just an attack on the people of Newtownhamilton but on the wider political process’.

“Those who planted this bomb want to drag Northern Ireland back to the dark days of murder and mayhem, they want to undermine the political process, they want politics to fail. I am determined that we will all continue to stand together so that they will not succeed,” he added.

Reaction

Westminster candidates in the Newry and Armagh constituency gave their reaction to the attack.

Dominic Bradley, SDLP

“Those who planted this car bomb in Newtownhamilton have once again shown absolute disregard for the safety of local people. As I said before, this type of action was wrong when the Provos were behind it and it is wrong now.

“Although there was a police helicopter overhead local people have told me that there were no PSNI officers in the area for up to two hours after the explosion and one would have to question why this was the case.

“I have asked my colleague and Policing Board member Alex Attwood to raise this matter as a matter of urgency.”

Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin

“There is little doubt that this bomb is the work of one of the small militarist factions. These people are opposed to the peace process and have no strategy to bring about political change or deliver Irish unity.

“This bomb sends a message that the peace process needs to be defended. People across the north will have the chance to do exactly that on May 6th.

“People in south Armagh do not support these actions and will be angered at the disruption that this will bring to the local community.”

Danny Kennedy, Conservatives and Unionists

“It’s another reckless attack which unfortunately highlights the lack of security in south Armagh.

“People are very angry and frustrated, and they feel very exposed – they feel they were left at the mercy of these bombers.

“Clearly these bombers are ideological terrorists, and there has to be a security response to this – we are not getting the proper response from the chief constable, senior command or the Policing Board.”

William Irwin, DUP

“Whilst we are told that there is only a small group of dissidents and the majority of people oppose their actions, the police must concentrate their efforts in this area to ensure that this group can be shut down.

“The greatest weapon the police can have against this evil is the cooperation of the community. I would urge anyone with information about these terrorists to pass it on to the police.

“As this society moves forward we must not allow Northern Ireland to be dragged backwards by a small group of evil people who believe in the bomb and bullet.”

Andrew Muir, Alliance

“This despicable attempt to destabilise our society will merely strengthen our resolve to defeat terrorism.

“All politicians must again stand together and unite in condemnation of this heinous act. Unity of purpose is essential to enable us to tackle terrorism.

“People want to move forward to a shared, peaceful future and they will not let the violent actions of a small minority push Northern Ireland back into the past.”

William Frazer, Independent

“It’s a disgrace – the fact they’re able to drive in there days after the last bomb is just unbelievable.

“There’s no security in the area – it’s not the fault of the police on the ground but the chief constable won’t give them the resources to deal with it.

“It’s quite obvious they’re trying to send a message of fear to the local community and it’s working.”

Recent attack

Thursday’s bomb was the second attack on the Newtownhamilton base in the past two weeks.

Just nine days ago a car containing a ‘viable device’ was abandoned at the station gates.

Dozens of residents were evacuated from their homes while army technical officers defused the device.


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