A memorial to police officers killed in the line of duty will be returned to its original position within a Londonderry PSNI station after an outcry from the fallen officers’ families.
Relatives of the 37 RUC and two PSNI officers killed in the division since the beginning of the Troubles, were angered when the three marble plaques were removed from a hallway close to the enquiry office and placed in a third floor area used for photocopying.
Following a meeting on Friday between some of the bereaved families, a DUP delegation and the district commander Superintendent Mark McEwan, the senior officer apologised for the hurt caused and pledged to return the memorial as soon as possible.
“Throughout this week I have met with a number of families whose loved ones lost their lives during service with the RUC and PSNI, regarding the relocation of the memorials within Strand Road PSNI Station,” he said.
“Having listened to their views I appreciate the depth of feeling and sense of hurt over the re-positioning and have taken the decision to have the memorials returned to their original location as soon as possible.”
Supt McEwan added: “I wish to emphasise that at no stage did I intend to cause any distress or hurt to the families and friends of our lost colleagues. It is a matter of deep regret for me personally that this is the case and I sincerely apologise. A rededication service, which will be arranged in full consultation with the families, will be held in the coming weeks.”
Addressing a meeting of the Policing Board on Thursday, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said the proper protocols had not been adhered to by Supt McEwan – and said a new directive had been circulated to local commanders to ensure there is no repetition.
ACC Martin also conceded that the Strand Road commander was at least partly motivated by a desire to move the memorial from an area visible to those visiting the station.
“Obviously, works of this nature are so sensitive, as we’ve seen in the last few days, that none in the future have to be touched without first having a consultation with myself,” he said.
“Lessons have been learned from this. I have issued directions throughout the service to all district commanders.”
ACC Martin added: “Patten was quite clear – they stay how they are and where they are.”
The son of Reserve Constable John Olphert - who was shot dead in the city by the IRA in 1983 - attended Friday’s meeting and said afterwards that he welcomed the superintendent’s apology.
“He is genuinely remorseful, but it was regrettable that we had to do this. I never thought I’d have to confront a police officer to keep the memory of murdered police officers alive,” Mr Olphert said.
“This has been one of the toughest weeks of my life. The most important thing to me in my life was my father. I only had him for 12 years and his memory to me is the most important thing I have.”
Mr Olphert said he was driven by the need to “uphold the honour of the RUC”.
He added: “This wasn’t just for our families - it was for all of those killed. Everybody seems to be trying to blame the RUC for everything that happened during the Troubles and that just isn’t right.”
DUP MLA Gary Middleton was also at Friday’s meeting.
He said: “This was a very frank exchange between the families and senior officers which I was happy to facilitate. Whilst it was not an easy message for the officers to hear I do thank them for agreeing to have the meeting and for listening to the relatives.
“The families made it abundantly clear that their wish was to see the memorials restored to their original location. There was also a recognition from the police that there should have been consultation beforehand. On foot of the assurances given to the Policing Board [on Thursday] it does not lessen the hurt, but at least provides certainty for the future that such an episode should not happen again.”
Mr Middleton added: “Whilst there is nothing that can undo the distress that has been caused we can at least look forward to the reinstatement of the memorials and a future rededication.”
Relatives of Constable Phillipa Reynolds - the last PSNI officer to be killed on duty and who is commemorated on one of the plaques at Strand Road - are among almost 2,800 people who have signed an online petition in protest at the commander’s decision.
Signing the petition Const Reynolds’ father, Mervyn Reynolds posed the question: “Was offence being taken about these memorials, that necessitated them being relocated?”
Three years ago, PSNI bosses in Banbridge station moved a similar memorial to fallen officers from a first floor stairwell - which would have been passed by anyone visiting the district commander’s office - to a stairwell on the floor above.