PSNI officer shot in Omagh a ‘big personality, unbelievable volunteer and good man’

Det Chief Insp John Caldwell has provided key assistance to gardaí tracking Irish gangland figures crossing Border

Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was drinking coffee in a local cafe in Omagh on Wednesday morning chatting away with locals in the hours before dissident republicans tried to murder him.

“He’s a big personality, he’d be known in the town and lives locally. There was nothing standoffish about him,” Pastor Graham McElhinney, who runs a food bank in the Co Tyrone town, told The Irish Times.

“John’s a good guy and has been doing football coaching for years. He saw an opening to get kids together from across the two communities through sport.

“He made himself a target by opening up and doing work cross-community week in, week out.


“He’s also a big family man.”

As one of the most high-profile police officers in the North, DCI Caldwell (48) has been a member of the PSNI for 26 years and is, the Chief Constable says, held in the “highest esteem within our organisation”.

He worked on a number of high-profile murder investigations, including the killing of Natalie McNally in December, and the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr by dissident republicans in Omagh in 2011.

“John Caldwell was the senior investigating officer in Ronan Kerr’s murder, so he’s been at the other side of this on behalf of the police, trying to bring the perpetrators of Ronan’s murder to justice and there he finds himself being the target of it,” chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Liam Kelly, said.

Mr Kelly said he had known DCI Caldwell for many years and he was “a decent, hard-working family man and he’s absolutely committed to improving society both personally and professionally”.

He was also very active in investigations into serious organised crime, including gangland offences committed in the Republic. Last year he gave evidence before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin during the trial of Gerry Hutch (59) for the murder of David Byrne (34) at the Regency Hotel, north Dublin, in 2016.

DCI Caldwell told the court he had visited Ballymun Garda station in February 2016 and identified as Northern Irishman Kevin Murray one of the gunmen, wearing a flat cap, photographed running from the hotel on the day as he knew Murray, who lived in Strabane.

Mr Caldwell is one of the key PSNI officers from whom the Garda seek assistance when gangland figures from Dublin try to evade capture or investigation by going to the North when they are the subject of intense inquiries by the Garda.

A youth coach with Beragh Swifts FC, DCI Caldwell had just finished a training session with the U15 team when he was attacked.

“John Caldwell is a decent hard-working family man and he’s been involved in coaching kids for a number of years in that area, so the reality is he probably felt safe within that community and unfortunately the terrorists have taken advantage of that,” Mr Kelly said.

Ricky Lyons from Beragh Swifts FC told the BBC that DCI Caldwell was “always a busy man but he has been a volunteer... he gives up his time freely, coaching kids, helping out, he was helping with teams, sorting out kits, running after water bottles, all the things.

“He would have his eye on club development, he was with me yesterday having a coffee talking about a grant application and a small bit of work that we could maybe get done with the football club, thinking about the future.

“John’s just a good man and we’re shocked, we’re saddened that this tragedy arrived on our door.”

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times