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John Caldwell

New IRA 'primary line of enquiry' into attempted murder of PSNI detective John Caldwell

A fifth man has been arrested by police investigating the attempted murder this evening.

LAST UPDATE | 24 Feb 2023

THE PSNI HAS confirmed that it is treating the attempted murder of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell as “terror-related” and that the “primary line of enquiry is the New IRA”.

A fifth man has been arrested this evening in connection with the shooting. 

In an investigation update earlier today, the PSNI’s Assistant Chief Constable for Crime Department Mark McEwan also made a renewed appeal for anyone who was in the area or who witnessed what happened to come forward.

This can be done by calling 101 quoting reference number 1831 of 22/02/23 or can be done anonymously by contacting the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Information, including photos, CCTV and dash-cam footage, can also be provided to police through the Major Incident Public Portal

Meanwhile, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has said that Caldwell is “critically ill and heavily sedated” in hospital following the attempt made on his life.

Gunmen shot Caldwell in front of his young son in the attack at a sports complex in Omagh, Co Tyrone, shortly after 8pm on Wednesday evening.

Caldwell ran a short distance and fell to the ground where the attackers continued to fire at him as children ran in terror to get to safety, police said.

He remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

Arrests

A fifth man has been arrested this evening by police investigating the attempted murder. 

The man, aged 43, was arrested in the Stewartstown area of Co Tyrone under the Terrorism Act.

He is currently being questioned by detectives at Musgrave Serious Crime Suite.

This arrest comes after four men – aged 22, 38, 45 and 47 – were arrested in Omagh and Coalisland yesterday and today. 

They were also taken to Musgrave Serious Crime Suite for questioning and remain in custody this evening.

file-photo-dated-171120-of-police-service-of-northern-ireland-psni-detective-chief-inspector-john-caldwell-who-has-been-named-as-the-off-duty-police-officer-injured-in-a-shooting-at-a-sports-comp Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking alongside political representatives from the five main Stormont parties this afternoon, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “We do not underestimate, from the point of view of the police service, how important it is that we are joined today in an act of unity from all the political parties across Northern Ireland.

“Clearly we know from what we’ve done so far and from commentary from across the community, and the political spectrum, the sheer sense of outrage of this pointless and senseless attack on Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell.

“John remains in hospital, where he is critically ill and heavily sedated.”

Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill also emphasised the importance of unity in the wake of the attack.

She thanked Byrne for updating the five Stormont parties on the progress of the investigation.

“It is so important in moments like this that we stand united,” she said.

“We do stand here united as one voice in our condemnation against this horrific attack on a police officer, someone who is part of our community.

“I think that the most powerful message that we, as political leaders (can do, is) to stand with the chief constable today, to stand with the police service and say, this is not good enough. This is an attack on all of us, this is an attack on our community.”

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said it needs to be ensured that the PSNI has the resources it needs to carry out its job effectively. 

“We will work together as parties engaging with the Government to ensure that resource is being made available to the Chief Constable and the PSNI,” Donaldson said. 

“I would also say to the evil people who carried out this heinous attack and to their organisation – you are not the future of this place. We stand against you.” 

The attack

At around 8pm on Wednesday night, John Caldwell was putting footballs into the boot of his car and was accompanied by his young son.

Two gunmen approached and are believed to have both fired multiple shots.

Caldwell ran but fell to the ground, with the gunmen continuing to shoot, the police believe.

Speaking yesterday, Assistant Chief Constable for Crime Department Mark McEwan said: “John’s own son was with him at the time and witnessed the shooting. The trauma inflicted on this young boy is just horrific and he will never forget seeing his dad shot multiple times.”

McEwan added that “the gunmen fired from close range in the busy sports training area, which could also quite easily have killed or seriously injured children who were present at the time of the shooting”.

“Those who carried out this attack were completely reckless in their actions and they had absolutely no regard for the officer who was injured or anyone in the crowd,” he said. 

McEwan outlined that the two gunmen, who were dressed in dark clothing, carried out the attack and left the scene on foot.

At least two other vehicles were struck by the gun shots. 

“We believe the gunmen fled the scene in a small, dark coloured vehicle shortly after 8pm. We believe this vehicle was abandoned and set on fire in Racolpa Road, Omagh,” McEwan said.

chief-constable-simon-byrne-left-and-assistant-chief-constable-mark-mcewan-from-the-police-service-of-northern-ireland-psni-speak-to-the-media-outside-psni-headquarters-in-belfast-following-the-s PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne (left) and Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan speak to the media outside PSNI headquarters in Belfast yesterday Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Condemnation 

The attack has been widely condemned by political leaders across Ireland and the UK. 

Before their meeting today, political leaders in Northern Ireland issued a joint statement yesterday morning saying there can be no tolerance for this type of attack and that those responsible must face justice.

Sinn Féin Vice-President Michelle O’Neill, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, Alliance leader Naomi Long, UUP leader Doug Beattie and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood collectively said that they “speak for the overwhelming majority of people right across our community who are outraged and sickened by this reprehensible and callous attempted murder”.

“The community of Omagh has endured profound suffering, loss, and pain in the past which has left a deep trauma, and so this act of violence has left people there rightly angered,” the leaders said.

There is absolutely no tolerance for such attacks by the enemies of our peace. Those responsible must be brought to justice.

“This will require the full co-operation of the public whom we call upon to assist police in this attempted murder investigation.

“Together we stand with John’s family and his colleagues in the police service at this time.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “utterly condemn[ed] this grotesque act of attempted murder” and called on “anyone with information about it to share it with the PSNI”.

“Our thoughts are with the injured officer, his family, colleagues and friends at this difficult time,” Varadkar said.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was appalled by the “disgraceful shooting of an off-duty police officer in Omagh”.

“My thoughts are with the officer and his family. There is no place in our society for those who seek to harm public servants protecting communities.”

With reporting by Press Association

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