A police commander has “wholeheartedly apologised” for any distress caused by the removal of a memorial to murdered officers from one of Northern Ireland’s largest PSNI stations.
The tribute was recently taken down from display on the ground floor of the Strand Road base in Londonderry – angering a number of bereaved relatives and the Police Federation (PFNI).
Superintendent Mark McEwan said the memorial would be relocated to a more private area of the building.
“I understand the re-positioning of these memorials may have offended some people however it was never my intention to cause any distress or hurt and I wholeheartedly apologise for any distress this may have caused.
“My intention in creating this memorial area was to have an appropriate place which would afford officers and staff additional privacy to remember our RUC and PSNI colleagues who have sadly lost their lives,” he said.
Supt McEwan said the new site would house pictures and photographs donated by the families of police officers, and that a “rededication service” would be held within weeks.
At the height of the Troubles, Strand Road was the base for around 500 officers - including three Mobile Support Units (now called Tactical Support Groups), a large team of CID detectives and Special Branch.
In an internal memo to staff prompted by press inquiries yesterday, Supt McEwan appeared to explain that the plaque was moved so it would no longer be seen by the general public.
He said: “As the front inquiry office is still utilised by members of the public, the memorials have been moved to a new memorial area located outside the constable’s briefing room on the third floor.”
UUP MLA Ross Hussey, a former RUC reservist and member of the Policing Board, was deeply concerned.
“If these plaques are now being hidden from public view I will find it personally offensive because that would mean they are trying to sweep the service of the RUC and PSNI officers who gave their lives under the carpet,” he said.
PFNI chairman Mark Lindsay said the decision was regrettable.
“At the very least, there ought to have been proper consultation with the relatives and former colleagues of murdered colleagues honoured on the plaques,” he said.
“Sadly, there was no consultation which is why there is such annoyance and disappointment today. In other stations, plaques and memorials have been moved to more private locations but the views of those who matter most were always taken into account. The bottom line for us is that we remember all of our murdered colleagues, and that that act is conducted with dignity and the utmost of respect.”
Mr Lindsay added: “On this occasion, there was no consultation and that is to be regretted. In future, no such move should be considered without first seeking the views of those who have to live day and daily with the barbarism that claimed the lives of their loved ones.”
Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton said “strong concerns” had been raised over the memorial’s removal.
“As soon as we were informed about this decision my colleague Gregory Campbell MP spoke to senior officers and expressed his concern, requesting immediate (if belated) discussions be held with relatives.
“We now understand that contact has been made with some relatives of those murdered, but the question remains why this basic and fundamental courtesy was not followed initially,” Mr Middleton said.
“There were very strong concerns raised with us, particularly by former officers that some attempt was being made to airbrush the Royal Ulster Constabulary from history. This view is entirely understandable when decisions are taken without consultation.
“Acting in such a manner will inevitably lead to fresh pain for people already conscious of attempts to rewrite history. As the original siting was dedicated with a religious ceremony, there is all the more reason for the utmost sensitivity to be taken regarding any removal.”
Mr Middleton added: “I understand police have now apologised to the families and explained the rationale behind moving the items to a different area within the station. It is a shame however that such a conversation could not have taken place prior to the decision being taken rather than after its implementation.’
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “Given the sacrifice of the RUC during the Troubles I cannot think of a more appropriate thing to inspire officers currently serving than a tribute to those who lost their lives in the fight against terror.
“The apology which has been offered is completely hollow.
“What is needed here are not empty platitudes but the restoration of the tribute to its original location.
“The RUC suffered great loss in Londonderry. It is worth remembering that the current deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, was by his own admission an IRA commander in the city.
“One cannot help wondering if this tribute was removed because of the danger of offending those who continue to justify and defend the IRA’s wicked campaign.
“I will be raising this matter with the PSNI and the Justice Minister.”
In 2013, police commanders in Banbridge sparked a similar outcry when they moved the station’s memorial from a stairwell visible from the ground floor, to a stairwell between the first and second floors.
At the time, the son of a murdered officer whose name was on the memorial said he feared it had been moved as it was located in clear view of anyone visiting the district commander’s office.
John Bell said he was concerned the memorial “may have been moved in order to accommodate a republican agenda ... demonising the magnificent work of the RUC”.
The PSNI said it was moved to “faciliate new signage”.