The Ormeau Road saga was another example of weak PSNI leadership

News Letter editorial of Thursday December 9 2021:

By Editorial
Thursday, 9th December 2021, 12:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th December 2021, 7:41 pm
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

It is quite bad enough that two police officers were disciplined after the investigated an apparent Covid rule breach in February on the Ormeau Road.

But it is truly extraordinary that they were ever considered for prosecution.

The pair came across a commemoration to those murdered in the terrible 1992 Sean Graham’s bookmaker atrocity.

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If society is going to go down the route of having lockdowns, then it is essential that it is enforced evenly and seen to be so (instead of the police not only overlooking breaches, but acquiescing in them, as at last year’s IRA funeral).

The exact way the officers handled the sensitive situation they came across on the Ormeau Road should of course be open to scrutiny. But they were (in effect) disciplined by the chief constable, prior to full understanding of the circumstances, after nationalist uproar at PSNI handling of the Covid breach. The saga fuelled the sense that when republicans get upset about something, the PSNI high command jump.

The police ombudsman investigated the complaint against the two officers and sent a file to prosecutors.

It is now December, almost a year after the incident. Are prosecutors unable to expedite cases that patently lack merit?

This incident is not the only example of policing weakness in the face of certain outcries. Feebly, Simon Bryne last December buckled in face of ombudsman criticism of the handling of Black Lives Matter protests that June.

Far from apologising, as he did over that episode, the PSNI should have stood firm in how it responded to the calculated breach of social distancing in the second Black Lives Matter gatherings. Is Mr Byrne unaware that people who obey Covid rules need to see that those who deliberately don’t will face consequence?

It was heartening yesterday to see a string of distinguished policing figures — Mark Lindsay, Jim Gamble, Roy McComb — call for the two officers to be returned to normal duties.

We give thanks to such PSNI officers for their service in a delicate community atmosphere, even if their leaders do not.

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