Updated 9 hours ago
PSNI Police Chief said he will work to rebuild trust with the union community during the Northern Ireland March season after a monitor report showed his strength in showing bias in keeping the funeral of Republican Bobby Story.
Simon Byrne also insisted he would not resign after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said the police had prioritized public security over enforcing Covid-19 regulations during the funeral.
The funeral saw about 2,000 mourners on the streets in West Belfast last June at a time when strict Covid-19 regulations were in effect.
The review began after it was announced that the 24 Sinn Fein politicians who attended the funeral could not be prosecuted.
The decision angered Unionist political leaders, who called on Berne to resign.
They were angered by the prior clash between Sinn Féin and PSNI while planning the funeral. Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s deputy prime minister, was among those questioned as part of the subsequent six-month police investigation.
But HMICFRS said on Monday that the Covid regulations in place at the time were confusing and also found that PSNI took a consistent approach to investigating alleged violations at funerals or similar events.
It concluded that much of PSNI’s public criticism after the funeral was unjustified.
At a press conference in Belfast, the PSNI Police Chief said: “I have no intention of resigning, I have said that from the start.
“You have to take it very seriously, listen to criticism and move on.
“We are here to listen. We are here to monitor all sections of society in a fair and equitable manner. We have worked hard across the country to prove that we are committed to justice and impartiality.”
He added, “The results of the inspection body showed that there is great confusion and violations of regulations.”
Responding to questions about the report’s criticism of record-keeping, Mr. Byrne said, “It was not just a lack of records, we had submitted more than 500 documents to the inspectorate.
“I think the criticism is that on six occasions the recordkeeping should have been better. We are trained to complete the audit trail, and we have to accept that and we’ll learn those lessons.”
“It is a pity that we have not kept records of the standard that HMIC was expecting, but the people participating in those conversations personally insist that this is what happened.”
“In the past few months, there has been a lot of emotion around monitoring this funeral, and we need to work hard to convince the Protestant / trade union / loyalist communities, especially at the moment, that we are here to watch them just like everyone else and we will double our efforts over the summer,” he added.
DUP Police Council member Mervyn Storey said further scrutiny should be carried out on the actions of the sheriff and other high-ranking officers.
He said, “The trade union community, as well as every family that made huge personal sacrifices to comply with the restrictions imposed on funerals during the epidemic, will rightly view this report with skepticism.”
Inspectors found that PSNI made preventing chaos a top priority, while avoiding Covid violations was a third.
“It’s amazing, therefore, they are not reaching the threshold of blame or resignations. This is a missed opportunity for full accountability.”
Story said the police actions had “seriously undermined the public’s confidence in police work.”
“Without a clear plan and decisive action by PSNI to restore confidence, the damage may soon be irreparable.”
Elected New Ulster Union leader Doug Beatty, whose party has previously called on the sheriff to resign, said he is ready to work with Mr Byrne to “rebuild confidence”.
Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long said: “The report highlights that all politicians and community leaders have a role to play in working with the police to build and maintain public trust in policing, and that they need to be aware of the intended consequences. Their comments. “
Matt Barr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Police, said: “PSNI faced the complex challenge of monitoring a politically sensitive funeral while also trying to explain confusing Covid-19 regulations.
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“The service took a sensitive approach, and ultimately fulfilled what it planned to do – prioritizing public security over compliance with regulations.
“ Given the complex and frequently changing Covid-19 regulations, we are not confident that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate to the court that any of those present at Bobby Story’s funeral intentionally committed a crime – and therefore we agree with the decision not to prosecute.
“I am assured that PSNI did not show any bias in its handling of the funeral, and that the service would have taken the same approach if the funeral took place in a different community. However, PSNI has lessons to learn from its handling of the funeral, and therefore we have made several recommendations to help it. Improve how it policies for future events. “
HMICFRS recommended that PSNI broadly communicate the 4Es approach – sharing, explaining, encouraging, and enforcing – whenever violations of Covid-19 regulations are to be expected in events.
It also recommended that PSNI create and maintain adequate records of conversations with event organizers, and conduct a formal debriefing at the end of any police operations.