An independent report found that the Northern Ireland police service showed no bias in its handling of the funeral of senior Republican Bobby Story last June and supported a decision not to prosecute senior Sinn Fein politicians in attendance.
The report was issued by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police, commissioned by Minister of Justice Naomi Long.
It concluded that PSNI prioritized public security over enforcing Covid-19 regulations and said it understood why PSNI was pursuing this approach «given the potential for tensions, and because Covid-19 regulations were confusing.»
However, she said that PSNI anticipated violations on the day of the funeral and «should have explained and encouraged compliance» with the regulations «before the funeral took place.»
About 2,000 mourners attended Bobby Story’s funeral in West Belfast last June, when public health regulations limited public gatherings of 30 people.
Among those present were Deputy Prime Minister Michael O’Neill and Finance Minister Connor Murphy.
PSNI faced heavy criticism for its handling of the funeral.
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster, has called for the resignation of Police Chief Simon Byrne, and also said that Vice President Stephen Heron should consider his position.
The Ulster Union Party also supported calls for Mr Byrne to resign.
Today’s HMIC report concluded that much of the public criticism of PSNI after the funeral was «unjustified» and that the police have taken a consistent approach to investigating alleged violations at funerals or similar events.
It concluded that while there were some reasons to criticize the PSNI approach, they were not serious failures and «not approaching the level at which individual officers’ censure or resignations could be justified.»
The inspectorate also said that the People’s Protection Department was right not to prosecute the politicians who attended the funeral because «there was no real possibility that they would be convicted.»
The Director of Public Prosecutions previously stated that the fact that the police dealt with the organizers before the funeral was one of the factors behind the decision not to prosecute the individuals.
He also said there was «a lack of clarity and coherence» about Covid-19 regulations at the time.
These factors, Heron said, would pose an «insurmountable difficulty» if any of the individuals were to be tried.
Today’s report concluded that public health regulations at the time of the funeral were «confusing and controversial» and «this alone posed an insurmountable problem for PSNI.»
Police Inspector Matt Barr today said he is assured that PSNI has not shown any bias in its handling of the funeral, «but said there were lessons to be learned and made a number of recommendations.
These include that the police “communicate widely” with 4E (engage, explain, encourage, and enforce) when violations of Covid-19 regulations are to be expected in events, to create and maintain appropriate records of conversations with the event organizer and to conduct a formal debriefing at the end of policy processes.
The inspection body also agreed with recommendations made by the Public Prosecution Service, including that PSNI should engage with event organizers as soon as possible to discuss risk assessments, and that the service should identify professional contacts with whom they can engage to explain changes in the law that could affect On controlling security for an event.
After the report was published, Police Chief Simon Byrne welcomed the results.
«We are committed to impartiality and we are pleased that the report concluded that there was no bias in our handling of the funeral, and that the same approach could have been followed if the funeral took place in a different community,» he said.
Police Chief Byrne also said the findings support the practice of early engagement and recommends that this be continued.
He said PSNI is «determined to work with the entire community to enhance confidence in the work of the police as an impartial and equitable service.»
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 confidence in police action, and they must be aware of the consequences, whether intended or otherwise, of Their comments. «
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