Published Thursday, 04 October 2012
The scene of the bombing in 1979. (© Pacemaker)
Dr James O'Donovan said evidence against two suspects arrested by gardai on the day of the Narrow Water bombing had been quite good.
The attack, on August 27 1979, near Warrenpoint in Co Down caused the highest death toll suffered by the British Army in a single incident during the Troubles, and came just hours after the Queen's cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed when a bomb exploded on his boat off County Sligo.
The majority of the dead were paratroopers.
Dr O'Donovan, the founder and former director of the Irish state laboratory, told the Smithwick Tribunal he was surprised prime suspects Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan were never prosecuted.
The pair were arrested minutes after the second blast and evidence against them included firearms residues, traces of ammonium nitrate, ferns in their clothing which could have come from the look-out sites and tests on saliva from a cigarette butt recovered from a lookout site.
"Why was the Criminal Prosecution Act not used?" he asked under cross-examination.
I thought the evidence was good on the basis that they gave false name and addresses, they were arrested on a motorcycle that had been near the scene of the detonation.
Dr James O'Donovan
The retired forensic scientist continued: "There were cigarette butts, saliva samples, one of them had fern material in his underpants.
"Go to the law library and you would not find many with fern in their underpants," he added.
"On summation the evidence was quite good."
Just two days after they were arrested, the men were charged only with motoring offences and released.
The tribunal previously heard claims from an unnamed senior RUC officer that police in the Irish Republic were ordered by a former Taoiseach not to co-operate with the investigation into the bombing because of paratroopers' involvement in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry.
Burns was killed in 1988 when a bomb he was transporting exploded prematurely, while Brennan was later convicted of firearms charges in Northern Ireland.
The Smithwick Tribunal is investigating allegations of Garda collusion in the IRA killing of two senior RUC officers, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, in Dundalk in 1989, minutes after they left a meeting with Gardai.
Earlier, a retired superintendent said he presumed rumours that a sergeant was a maverick associating with the IRA along the border were known within Garda headquarters.
Tom Butler said he had been aware of claims in the mid-1980s that former officer Owen Corrigan was getting information from terrorists.
Former Detective Sergeant Corrigan and two other named officers deny any allegations of collusion.