Credit: Kenneth Allen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Three men arrested in connection with attempted murder of off-duty police officer in Omagh

Three men have been arrested in connection with the attempted murder of an off-duty senior police officer in Omagh, County Tyrone, on Wednesday.

Detective Chief inspector John Caldwell was shot multiple times by two masked gunmen after coaching young people at football. Police said Mr Caldwell was with his son, putting balls into the boot of his car, at about 8pm last night when he was shot. Police have said that while they are keeping an open mind, the “primary focus” is on dissident republicans and the New IRA.

The officer remains in a critical but stable condition at Altnagelvin Hospital in County Derry. The three men – aged 38, 45 and 47, were arrested in Omagh and Coalisland in County Tyrone, the PSNI have confirmed.

The PSNI confirmed early today that the senior officer who was shot was the Det Chief Inspector Mr Caldwell, who has been a senior detective in many high-profile enquiries, including the 2011 murder of his colleague Ronan Kerr by dissident republicans.

Most recently, Mr Caldwell, who was targeted in what PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne described as a “brazen” attack, had led the Natalie McNally murder investigation. It is believed his young son was with him when he was attacked while at a youth football training session. Police said that children ran in “sheer terror” from the gunmen.

Northern Ireland’s political leaders have issued a joint statement to condemn the “callous” attack, while NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris described the shooting as a “serious” and “significant” event.

Mr Caldwell, who has been a police officer for 26 years, and is from County Tyrone, is recognisable as the detective inspector who often fronts press conferences in the course of major enquiries. BBC NI reported that the father had received a number of threats in the past, and he was aware that his investigations relating to the dissident republican attacks, including the murder of Ronan Kerr, and the killing of Lyra McKee in 2019, made him a high-profile target.

In the past number of years, Northern Ireland has seen several attempts to kill PSNI officers. The most recent of these was when a patrol vehicle was targeted in a roadside bomb attack in Strabane, County Tyrone, in November.

The last officer who was killed while serving was Constable Ronan Kerr on 2 April 2011, a young officer who was killed by a booby-trap car bomb planted outside his home at Highfield Close, just off the Gortin Road, near Killyclogher, just outside Omagh. Responsibility for the killing was claimed by a dissident republican group.

On the tenth anniversary of 25-year-old Mr Kerr’s death, Mr Caldwell had led tributes to the Catholic police officer, who was killed at a time when Catholic membership made up around 30% of the PSNI.

“Despicably, people living in his own community planned and plotted to kill him simply because he was a police officer bravely going out every day to protect people and make communities safer places to live and work,” he said.

“No-one deserves to be murdered because of how they earn their respectable living,” Mr Caldwell said in 2021.

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