Senior officer restates belief that New IRA shot off-duty detective in Omagh

A senior police officer has repeated his belief that the dissident republican New IRA carried out a gun attack on an off-duty detective in Northern Ireland.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan made the remarks to the Policing Board after being questioned over the possibility of loyalist involvement in the attack on Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell.

Mr Caldwell was shot several times in Omagh last week and is still critically ill in hospital.

Police have made a number of arrests and three men remain in custody.

Police officer shot in Omagh
Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was shot a number of times last week (David Young/PA)

Sinn Fein board member Gerry Kelly asked Mr McEwan for an update on the investigation.

Mr Kelly said it had been a “bit confusing” as there had been reports of arrests in the nationalist/republican community as well as the unionist/loyalist.

Mr McEwan said: “We know there is speculation about the motivation behind the shooting incident because of the community background of some of the people who have been arrested.

“We are very clear that this is still assessed as being an attack carried out by the New IRA and that is where the primary focus of the investigation is.”

Bomb found in Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein policing spokesman Gerry Kelly asked if there was a loyalist connection to the attack on Mr Caldwell (David Young/PA)

Mr Kelly said it was believed that four of the people who had been arrested were from a loyalist background and asked if there was a loyalist connection to the shooting.

Mr McEwan said people should not get “confused” with titles such as loyalism.

He added: “We still assess that this has been an attack carried out by the New IRA who have very explicitly stated that they wish to carry out attacks on police officers and John has been the target on this occasion.”

Police officer shot in Omagh
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne said messages of support for DCI John Caldwell had been coming from all over the world (Brian Lawless/PA)

Chief Constable Simon Byrne thanked board members and the public for their messages of support, which he said had been relayed to the immediate family of Mr Caldwell.

He said: “We have made numerous arrests.

“I’ve been out myself three times to Omagh for various reasons to see first hand what is going on and to see John’s family, and to give them every support.

“It has been quite tremendous the effort that has gone into the determination to catch the people who did this, both from those investigators who are dealing with the immediate aftermath, the crime scene investigators who help us piece together the evidence bit by bit, and also the determination of colleagues from across the country, many of whom knew John, to do their bit.

“We have had messages from all over the world extending people’s thoughts to us and John’s family.

“He remains critically ill in hospital, but he is in good care.

“We are ensuring that his wife and son have every possible support from the organisation.”