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The scene of the shooting in Omagh this morning Diarmuid Pepper/The Journal
John Caldwell

Three men arrested in connection with the attempted murder of off-duty PSNI detective

The officer was attacked shortly after 8pm at a sports complex on the Killyclogher Road in Omagh.

LAST UPDATE | 23 Feb 2023

THREE MEN HAVE been arrested by police in Northern Ireland in connection with the attempted murder of PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell in Co Tyrone yesterday evening. 

The men – aged 38, 45 and 47 – were arrested in Omagh and Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

They are currently being questioned at Musgrave Serious Crime Suite.

Caldwell was attacked shortly after 8pm at a sports complex on the Killyclogher Road in Omagh at a coaching session for youth football team while he was not on duty.

Detectives on the PSNI’s Major Investigation Team have launched an investigation into the attempted murder, with a primary focus on the New IRA.

Caldwell remains in hospital where his condition is “critical but stable”. He underwent surgery overnight.

‘Attack on peace process’

The attack has sparked condemnation by political leaders and churches across the UK and Ireland.

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill has said it represents “an attack on the peace process”.

O’Neill said everyone is “at one and united” in condemnation.

“These actions are totally intolerable and not acceptable to anybody,” she told reporters at Stormont.

“They represent an attack on the peace process and everything that we have achieved over the last 25 years, and that can’t be allowed to happen.

brexit Michelle O'Neill PA PA

“Here we are celebrating 25 years of the peace process, something that we all should be very proud of, and these people are attacking the peace process, it is as simple as that, and that is not tolerable to anybody.

“We’re all united as political leaders, as the PSNI, as leaders across this island and both islands.”

Earlier, O’Neill, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, Alliance leader Naomi Long, UUP leader Doug Beattie and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood issued a joint statement of condemnation.

They said: “We 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.

“There is absolutely no tolerance for such attacks by the enemies of our peace.”

Simon Harris contacts NI Secretary

Justice Minister Simon Harris has spoken with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris about the incident, pledging support from the Gardaí.

In a statement, Harris said: “As Ministers with responsibility for security in our respective jurisdictions, we discussed the current and ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland who, as always, are working closely together.

“I know from the regular briefings I am receiving from the Garda Commissioner that no effort or resource will be spared by the Gardaí in that important work.”

Harris offered his thoughts to Caldwell, his family, community and PSNI colleagues.

“This appalling crime is a reminder that there are still those in our communities who have no regard for human life and no respect for the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people on this island who want to live in peace.”

In a statement to The Journal last night, a garda spokesperson confirmed that gardaí were “responding to an ongoing incident which took place earlier this evening in Northern Ireland”.

The spokesperson added: “We are working closely in cooperation with our counterparts in the PSNI.”

psni-officers-at-the-scene-of-a-shooting-in-the-killyclogher-road-area-of-omagh-where-a-man-a-serving-police-officer-was-injured-in-a-shooting-incident-at-a-sports-complex-in-omagh-on-wednesday-eve The PSNI responded to the shooting last night Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The garda spokesperson informed The Journal that gardaí have “intensified patrolling in border counties”.

Security sources say this is being done in the event the attackers crossed the border.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said they received a 999 call at 8.02pm following reports of an incident in the Slievard area of Killyclogher.

“NIAS dispatched a Rapid Response Paramedician Emergency Crew and an ambulance officer to the incident,” a spokesperson said.

“Following assessment and initial treatment at the scene, one patient was taken by ambulance to Altnagelvin Area Hospital.”

Footballs

The PSNI have said that around 8pm last 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.

PSNI 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. 

Three men arrested over attempted murder of senior detective in Northern Ireland

McEwan said the investigation is at an early stage, but appealed to anyone with information to contact the police. 

“Our main line of enquiry is that violent dissident republicans carried out this vile attack and within that a primary focus is on the New IRA,” 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.&

“We want to hear from anyone who was in the area or who witnessed what happened to get in touch with any information that could help with our investigation.”

Witnesses or anyone with information are asked make contact with police on 101 quoting reference number 1831 of 22/02/23, through Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

image (3) Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell PA Images PA Images

Varadkar and Sunak condemn attack

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.”

Emergency response

Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan paid tribute to a “brave” member of the public who ran towards Caldwell during the attack and administered first aid.

“I would also like to thank our partners in the ambulance service. If it had not been for their quick actions we might have been looking at something very different this morning,” he said. 

He said police recognise the “huge shock and trauma” the attack has caused in the community in Omagh.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said Caldwell’s colleagues are “extremely distressed” following last night’s attack.

“However, they remain resolute and committed to bringing those responsible for this heinous crime to justice,” Byrne said.

“I also welcome the cross party political condemnation to last night’s attack,” he said.&

“However, it is tragic and sad that there are still some who wish to drag us back to the past,” he told reporters.

With additional reporting from Niall O’Connor, Lauren Boland, Hayley Halpin, Emer Moreau and Press Association

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