Confusing COVID-19 regulations caused problems for Police Service of Northern Ireland's handling of Bobby Storey funeral
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) prioritised public security over enforcement of COVID-19 Regulations at the funeral of Bobby Storey, without biasing one community over another, a report has found.
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Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said it understood why the PSNI took this approach, given the likelihood of tensions, and because COVID-19 Regulations were confusing.
However, the inspectorate said the PSNI should have explained and encouraged compliance with the COVID-19 Regulations before the funeral took place, because the service had anticipated that breaches would occur on the day.
HMICFRS also found the PSNI took a consistent approach to investigating alleged breaches at similar funerals or events, and concluded that much of the public criticism of the PSNI following the funeral was unwarranted.
After taking independent legal advice, the inspectorate agreed that the Public Prosecution Service was right not to prosecute politicians who attended the funeral, because there was no realistic prospect of them being convicted.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said:
“The PSNI faced the complex challenge of policing a politically-sensitive funeral while also trying to interpret the confusing COVID-19 Regulations. The service took a sensitive approach, and ultimately achieved what it set out to do – prioritising public security over compliance with the Regulations.
“Due to the complex and frequently changing COVID-19 Regulations, we are not confident that there was enough evidence to prove to a court that any of the attendees at Bobby Storey’s funeral had knowingly committed an offence – and we therefore agree with the decision not to prosecute.
“I am reassured that the PSNI showed no bias in its handling of the funeral, and that the service would have taken the same approach if the funeral was held in a different community. The PSNI does however have lessons to learn from its handling of the funeral, and we have therefore made several recommendations to help it improve how it polices events in the future.”
HMICFRS has recommended that the PSNI should:
- broadly communicate the 4Es approach – engage, explain, encourage and enforce –whenever breaches of the COVID-19 Regulations are anticipated at events;
- make and retain proper records of conversations with event organisers; and
- carry out a formal debrief at the end of any policing operations.
The inspectorate also agreed with recommendations made by the Public Prosecution Service, including that the PSNI should engage with event organisers as early as possible to discuss risk assessments, and that the service should identify professional contacts they can engage with to interpret changes in the law that could affect the policing of an event.
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- HMICFRS was commissioned to carry out this inspection by the Northern Ireland Department of Justice. The commission can be found on the HMICFRS website.
- For further information, please contact the HMICFRS Press Office on 07836 217 729.