Bomb victim families suffer malicious calls


Telecom Eireann yesterday announced details of its Malicious Calls Bureau as the families of two young boys killed in the Omagh bomb atrocity struggled to understand how they could be the target of such calls about their sons.

A Garda spokesman confirmed that a complaint had been made about malicious calls to the families of Oran Doherty and Shaun McLaughlin in Buncrana, and a special unit of eight detectives had been set up to investigate them.

The families of both boys were deeply upset by the calls and have asked to be left alone to grieve in peace. "This has upset them terribly," a Garda source said.

Anger and disbelief have been expressed in the neighbourhood. A local curate, Father Shane Bradley, who officiated at the funerals of Oran Doherty (8) and Shaun McLaughlin (12) less than a fortnight ago, said people found it hard to take in and some people felt very angry.

This had caused terrible distress to the families over and above their own grief, Father Bradley said, adding: "It is another stab in an already gaping wound." He appealed to the media not to contact the families directly. According to local people, the calls have been made by more than one person, and the callers include a woman. Callers rang the families and asked for the dead boys by name before hanging up.

The families of all three Buncrana children killed in the Omagh bombing are to meet President Clinton during his visit to Northern Ireland tomorrow. Meanwhile a Garda spokesman recommended that people who receive malicious calls should contact the Telecom Eireann Malicious Calls Bureau for advice on how to respond to them.

Telecom yesterday announced details of its "state of the art" Malicious Calls Bureau. The bureau plans to work closely with the i, Garda to help customers who are subject to the often harrowing experience of receiving nuisance telephone calls. By centralising investigation into one unit, Telecom said, the bureau would speed up the process of bringing about successful prosecutions.

Malicious calls are increasing in Ireland and across Europe. Last year Telecom dealt with some 30,000 formal complaints from customers. The Malicious Calls Bureau has been in operation since April 6th last and is operated by 12 staff. Since April it has dealt with some 17,000 calls.

Making a malicious call is a criminal offence, and those convicted can receive fines ranging from £800 to £50,000, a prison sentence of up to five years or both.

A bureau staff member remains in contact with the victim of the call until the case is concluded so victims do not have to go through the process alone.

The Malicious Calls Bureau may be contacted on Freefone 1800 689 689 between 8.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m., Monday to Friday.