Pictured: Off-duty Northern Ireland police officer shot 'four times'

Pictured: Senior off-duty Northern Ireland police officer shot ‘four times’ in front of his son by ‘masked New IRA gunmen’ as he coached youngsters at sports centre in ‘barbaric’ attack

  • The off-duty officer was said to be coaching a football session at the centre
  • He was rushed to a Londonderry hospital and is in a critical but stable condition 

A senior off-duty police officer was shot up to four times by two suspected New IRA gunmen in front of his young son during a ‘barbaric’ attack in Northern Ireland last night. 

Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was putting footballs in the back of his car after coaching children football at Youth Sport Omagh in Co Tyrone when he was approached by the two masked killers at around 8pm. 

After they fired multiple shots, the father of one tried to run but fell to the ground, where the gunmen continued to fire at him as screaming children ran to safety. 

The gunmen – who police believe are from the New IRA terror group who murdered journalist Lyra McKee, 29 – left in a car before fleeing across the border into the Republic of Ireland. 

DCI Caldwell was taken to hospital in Londonderry where he is in a critical but stable condition, while a huge search is now underway to find the killers.  

Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell has led numerous high profile investigations in Northern Ireland

A large police response followed the attack, which has left the officer in a critical but stable condition

The attack occurred at the Youth Sport Omagh sports centre at around 8pm on Wednesday

Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan told BBC Radio Ulster: ‘Last night at approximately 8 o’clock at the youth sports centre in Killyclogher Road, Omagh, whilst John was putting footballs into the boot of his car, and accompanied by his young son, two gunmen approached and we believe both have fired multiple shots.

‘John has ran a short distance and he’s fallen to the ground, and as he’s on the ground the gunmen have continued to fire at him.

‘That shows the absolute callous nature of this attack in a crowded space where there are children and parents in the vicinity, and we saw many of those young people and children running in sheer terror to get to safety.

‘At least two other vehicles have been struck, and again this highlights the callous and reckless nature of this attack.’

Mr McEwan said the investigation is at an early stage and that police believe the gunmen made off in a small dark car which was later found burned out just outside Omagh.

‘I would appeal for anyone with any information about those involved, about the vehicle, or anything else you think may be of use to the inquiry, no matter how small, please come forward to police,’ he said.

Dissident republican group the New IRA is the primary focus for detectives investigating the shooting of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell.

Mr McEwan told BBC Radio Ulster: ‘We are keeping an open mind. There are multiple strands to that investigation. The primary focus is on violent dissident republicans and within that there is a primary focus as well on New IRA.’

Asked if he thinks dissident republicans are probably responsible, he said: ‘Yes, as I say, we are keeping an open mind as we do in every investigation, but that is a primary line of inquiry for this attack.’ 

Mr McEwan was asked if there is a concern for wider security and safety, and whether action would be taken to improve security for some police officers.

He replied: ‘On an ongoing basis, we see these elements continually trying to carry out attacks of this nature.

‘We are supporting our officers and staff. We continually review our security arrangements and advise our officers on security arrangements and that’s on an ongoing basis.

‘The threat level at the moment sits at substantial and that means an attack is highly likely.

‘That is an ongoing piece of work in terms of supporting our officers and staff and looking at security arrangements.’

Acting detective chief superintendent Eamonn Corrigan appealed for anyone who was in the area and witnessed what happened, or who has other information, to make contact with police on 101. 

Irish police have intensified patrols amid the suspicions the gunmen may have fled across the border. 

In a statement, the PSNI said the officer was injured just before 8pm on Wednesday evening. 

‘One man, a serving police officer, has been taken to hospital for treatment after being injured in a shooting incident at a sports complex just before 8pm this evening,’ they said. 

A former police ombudsman said how the officer was ‘making an important contribution to society’ at the time of the shooting.

A forensics officer at the scene of a shooting in the Killyclogher Road area of Omagh

Baroness Nuala O’Loan told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: ‘There’s a serenity to Omagh, it’s a beautiful place, and it’s awful to think of that serenity being so shattered again.

‘It’s such an awful crime, such an awful crime. This officer was actually making an important contribution to society.

‘He was going out after his policing, and he was enabling and encouraging young children.

‘And the people who tried to kill him, they knew he would be there, just giving generously.

‘It’s awful and I do hope he recovers fully.’

In a separate statement on Wednesday evening, the Garda said it is ‘currently responding to an ongoing incident which took place earlier this evening in Northern Ireland’. 

‘We are working closely in cooperation with our counterparts in the PSNI,’ a spokesperson said. 

‘An Garda Siochana has intensified patrolling in border counties.’ 

Mr Byrne said his thoughts are with the injured officer, his family and his colleagues. 

‘We will relentlessly pursue those responsible,’ he said. ‘They have nothing to offer the community.’ 

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Tom Elliott said the officer was coaching young people when the attack took place. 

‘My understanding is he was coaching young people at a local sports complex and I think they were nearing the end of the session or maybe at the end of the session and there would obviously have been some of these young people around at that time and I am told that two masked gunmen walked up and shot him a number of times,’ Mr Elliott told Nolan Live on BBC One NI. 

‘To see that happen in front of you for young people is indescribable almost, and I’m sure will have a lasting impact on them. 

‘At this stage clearly we’re all thinking of this police officer and his immediate family and we’re just hoping and praying that the officer will get better.’ 

An attempted murder investigation has been launched by Northern Irish police

Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file officers, branded as ‘barbaric and cold-blooded’ the gun attack in Omagh that has left an officer fighting for his life. 

‘It’s understood two gunmen were involved in the attack. The injured officer was shot a number of times whilst he coached young persons playing football,’ he said. 

‘This was a callous, cold-blooded and barbaric attempted murder on an off-duty officer. 

‘The officer is well known and respected in the area and plays an active role in the community. 

‘He is also well known within policing circles and is highly regarded by his colleagues. 

‘The people who carried out this cowardly and shocking act must be quickly identified and apprehended and I would appeal to the community to assist the police in whatever way they can. 

‘My thoughts, and those of all police officers, are with our colleague and his family. The police family is strong and resilient, and we’ll be there for him and his family in this dreadful hour of need.’ 

The shooting has been condemned by politicians across the UK and Ireland. 

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,’ he said. ‘There is no place in our society for those who seek to harm public servants protecting communities.’ 

Irish premier Leo Varadkar condemned the ‘grotesque act of attempted murder’. 

‘Our thoughts are with the injured officer, his family, colleagues and friends at this difficult time,’ the Taoiseach said. ‘I utterly condemn this grotesque act of attempted murder. 

‘I call on anyone with information about it to share it with the PSNI.’ 

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said it was an ‘outrageous and shameful attack’. 

‘My immediate thoughts are with the officer and his family,’ she said. ‘I unreservedly condemn this reprehensible attempt to murder a police officer.’ 

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described the shooting as ‘terrible news from Omagh’. 

‘Our heart goes out to the family of this courageous police officer and to his colleagues,’ he said. ‘We condemn outright the cowards responsible for this. 

‘These terrorists have nothing to offer and they must be brought to justice. We stand with the PSNI.’ 

Former Stormont justice minister, Naomi Long, said her thoughts were with the officer, his family, colleagues and all those affected by the shooting. 

The Alliance Party leader branded the attack an ‘evil act of cowardice’.

UUP leader Doug Beattie said: ‘A man is fighting for his life, supported by our society’s finest, our doctors and nurses. I pray he survives. 

‘There will be plenty to say in the days and weeks ahead about why anyone thinks they have any authority – moral, political or otherwise – to do something as cowardly as shoot a police officer. 

For tonight, my thoughts are with the officer, his family, his colleagues and those who are looking after him.’ SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the shooting was a ‘chilling attack’. 

‘In the face of appalling violence that has no place in modern Ireland, their bravery and selfless dedication to service is an enduring reminder that for every individual determined to tear us apart, there are hundreds more committed to defending our peace and all those who live under it,’ he said. 

Dissident Republican activity: A timeline 

Dissident republicans are suspected of shooting an off-duty police officer, Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell, as he coached young people at a sports complex in Omagh.

The incident is the latest in a line of sporadic attacks on the security forces over the last 15 years committed by violent extremists opposed to Northern Ireland’s peace process.

– May 2008 – A Catholic Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer sustains serious leg injuries when a bomb detonates under his car near Castlederg, Co Tyrone.

– March 2009 – Two soldiers, Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey, are shot dead by the Real IRA outside Massereene military barracks in Co Antrim. Just 48 hours later, police officer Stephen Carroll is shot dead while responding to a call in Craigavon, Co Armagh.

– January 2010 – Catholic police constable Peadar Heffron, 33, is seriously injured when a booby trap device detonates under his car about a mile from his home in Randalstown, Co Antrim.

– January 2010 – The Real IRA fires shots at a police station in Bessbrook, Co Armagh. No one is injured.

– February 2010 – Kieran Doherty, 31, is found shot dead close to the border in Co Londonderry. The Real IRA said it was responsible for the murder of Mr Doherty, who was one of its members.

– February 2010 – A bomb explodes outside Newry courthouse. No one is injured but the gates of the court are damaged.

– April 2010 – A bomb explodes outside Newtownhamilton police station causing considerable damage.

– April 2010 – A bomb in a hijacked taxi explodes outside Palace Barracks in Holywood, which includes the MI5 headquarters, injuring one man.

– August 2010 – Three children suffer minor injuries when a bomb explodes in a bin in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

– April 2011 – Catholic police recruit Ronan Kerr, 25, is killed when a bomb explodes under his car at his home in Omagh, Co Tyrone.

– September 2011 – The Real IRA is blamed for two bomb attacks at the home of a Catholic police officer and a retired doctor who works for the police near Claudy, Co Derry.

– October 2011 – A bomb explodes outside the UK City of Culture offices in Derry.

– January 2012 – A Scottish soldier finds a bomb inside his car parked at his girlfriend’s house in the Ligoniel area of north Belfast.

– November 2012 – Prison officer David Black, 52, is gunned down as he drives along the M1 motorway to work at Maghaberry high security jail. The New IRA claims responsibility for his murder.

– December 2012 – An off-duty police officer discovers a bomb under his car in east Belfast.

– March 2013 – Police escape injury when a device explodes in a bin during a parade in Lurgan.

– October 2013 – Dissident republicans are blamed for a series of letter bomb attacks. Packages addressed to secretary of state Theresa Villiers and two senior police officers are made safe.

– November 2013 – A bomb in a hijacked car partially explodes close to the Victoria Square shopping complex in Belfast city centre. No one is injured.

– December 2013 – A bomb in a sports bag explodes in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter disrupting Christmas celebrations.

– February 2014 – Letter bombs are sent to Army careers offices in Oxford, Slough, Kent, Brighton, Hampshire and Berkshire. Dissident republicans are blamed.

– March 2014 – Police are attacked with a mortar in west Belfast. There are no reports of injuries and minimal damage was caused.

– May 2014 – The reception area of a hotel in Londonderry is damaged by a fire bomb.

– April 2015 – A bomb explodes outside a Probation Service office in Derry. No one is hurt.

– June 2015 – A bomb is discovered under a police officer’s car in Eglinton, Co Derry. The target’s wife also served with the PSNI.

– October 2015 – A police recruitment event in Londonderry is cancelled after a bomb is discovered in the grounds of the venue.

– November 2015 – Police officers escape injury after eight high velocity shots are fired at their patrol car in west Belfast.

– March 2016 – Prison officer Adrian Ismay dies two weeks after a bomb explodes under his van at Hillsborough Drive in east Belfast.

– January 2017 – A police officer is injured in a shooting at a filling station on the Crumlin Road in Belfast. The garage’s busy forecourt is sprayed with automatic gunfire in the attack.

– February 2017 – A device explodes close to a police officer’s car in the Culmore area of Derry.

– January 2019 – A bomb placed in a van explodes outside the courthouse in Derry. Police blame the blast on the New IRA.

– March 2019 – The New IRA claims responsibility for sending small explosive devices in the post to two airports and a train station in London and the University of Glasgow.

– April 2019 – Journalist and author Lyra McKee, 29, is shot dead by dissidents while observing rioting in the Creggan area of Derry. The New IRA claims the attack. Several men are currently awaiting trial charged with the murder.

– June 2019 – An unexploded bomb is found under a police officer’s car parked at Shandon Park Golf Club in Belfast. The New IRA claims responsibility for the failed murder bid.

– July 2019 – A device explodes in Craigavon. Police blame dissident republicans and say it was a clear attempt to murder police officers.

– August 2019 – A bomb detonates near the border in Co Fermanagh. The attack at Wattlebridge is blamed on the Continuity IRA. It is seen as another bid to target police and Army bomb disposal officers.

– September 2019 – A bomb in an ‘advanced state of readiness’ is found in the Creggan area of Derry. Police said the device, attributed to the New IRA, was designed to kill police officers.

– August 2020 – The alleged leadership of the New IRA suffers a major blow with a series of arrests prompted by an MI5 surveillance operation.

– April 2021 – A bomb is placed beside a car parked outside the home of a female officer in Dungiven, Co Derry.

– March 2022 – The Government lowers the threat level for dissident republican attacks in Northern Ireland from severe to substantial. The threat had severe – the highest level – since 2010.

– November 2022 – A police patrol vehicle sustains damage after being targeted by an explosive device in Strabane, Co Tyrone. Days later a viable explosive device is discovered in a hijacked car left outside Waterside PSNI station in Derry.

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