MYSTERY OF ‘THE BEARDED MAN’
ALMOST 300 witness statements, 262 telephone records, 223 house-to-house enquiries and 18 suspects, but today, 20 years on from the Teebane massacre, no-one has ever been convicted of the murders of the eight Protestant workmen who lost their lives in the tragedy.
But one photo-fit image, given to police by both a survivor of the tragedy and a witness who passed the spot where IRA killers planted the deadly bomb, could hold the key as to who one of the bombers were.
In a chilling account given to police in the days after the atrocity, Teebane survivor Robert (Bobby) O’Neill described how a “bearded man” walked among the wreckage as the 14 Karl Construction workers lay dead or injured moments after the 500lb land mine was detonated. Another man, known as ‘Witness L’, also told how he passed the spot where the killers laid in wait that morning, and witnessed a man of a similar description close to the scene of the bomb.
In the Historical Enquiries Team report into the atrocity, it is revealed how two similar photo fits were given to police in the days and weeks after the tragedy depicting a bearded man, but neither were made public.
In Mr O’Neill’s account, the HET report stated that: “Following the explosion, he (Bobby) recalled seeing a bearded man, who he described walking past and looking at each of the injured men in turn.
“This man showed no compassion, shock or emotion and never spoke or offered any assistance to any of the injured and he believed he was one of the bombers.
“On February 8, 1992, he assisted police in compiling a photo-fit image of the bearded man.”
Witness L, a lorry driver who had been travelling on the road on the morning the bomb was due to go off, told detectives the day after the bomb of suspicious activity in a bus stop close to the explosion. CONTINUED ON PAGE 7
“Witness L stated he was a lorry driver who, about 10.35am, on January 17, 1992, was driving on the A505 road towards Omagh.
“As he drove through the crossroads, he saw three men standing at a bus stop to his right and as he passed them, he thought the men seemed to take an unusual interest in him,
“He described the men, one of whom had a beard and said that he would recognise that man if he saw him again. He assisted police in compiling a photo-fit image of the bearded man.”
Despite Mr O’Neill’s chilling first hand account, and the similar description given to police by both him and the lorry driver, the photo-fit was never released publicly by police. However, according to the HET investigation into the atrocity, the lorry-driver witness had “covertly viewed” seven of the 18 suspects while they were in custody, all of whom were bearded, but failed to identify any who he believed to be “the bearded man” he witnessed on that day.
“On February 11, 1992, he (Witness L) took part in a photograph identification procedure in which he viewed police photographs of possible suspects but he was unable to identify anyone,” the report said.
“He also viewed seven suspects who were arrested, while they were in police custody but failed to identify anyone.”
The report added that the photo fit compiled by the RUC with the assistance of survivor Bobby O’Neill, was circulated to “all RUC divisions” but Mr O’Neill was “never asked to view any photographs of suspects”.
“There is no reason explaining why not, recorded in the investigation files,” the report said.
The HET invesitgation outcome did however pour doubt on Mr O’Neill’s account that a bomber “would have risked” exposing hmself at the scene of the attack.
“Such behaviour is not in keeping with the steps the Provisional IRA took to avoid leaving clues behind that would assist in police identifying offenders,”
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