Exclusive: Body probing Bobby Storey funeral had no powers in NI

The News Letter has learned that the body tasked with investigating the PSNI’s handling of the Bobby Storey funeral was stripped of its powers to compel evidence whilst operating on Northern Irish soil.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 9:32 am

By a quirk of how the law is written, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) – which produced Monday’s report clearing the PSNI of any serious wrongdoing – does have such powers while operating in England and Wales, but not on this side of the Irish Sea.

This is of relevance because the report stated that Gerry Kelly declined to fully co-operate with inquiries, and in addition an unnamed events firm had not responded to investigators.

The report said that Mr Kelly, a Sinn Fein member of the Policing Board, had told police a “comprehensive stewarding plan” would be drawn up to aid social distancing and keep traffic moving on the day, with stewards helping “manage the crowds if the PSNI needed to close roads”.

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A crowd listens to former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams speak during the funeral of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 30, 2020. See PA story FUNERAL Storey Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The report added: “We understand that an events-planning company, used frequently by Sinn Fein, helped develop this plan.

“We know that this company passed a document to the PSNI... We tried to speak to the events company but got no response.”

Since the HMIC website states that it has “powers to secure information”, the News Letter enquired why it did not use these to force people into answering its questions.

It said: “Our powers to require a person to provide us with information apply to inspections of England and Wales police forces under section 54 of the Police Act 1996.

“This was an inspection under section 41 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998; our information-acquisition powers do not apply in Northern Ireland.”

In England and Wales the inspectorate as the power “to require any person to provide information for the purposes of inspection”, including civilians / contractors working with the police.

TUV leader Jim Allister, who has been among the most bitterly-critical voices condemning the Storey funeral, said: “It’s an obvious gap in our legislation which I’ll be calling on the justice minister to move swiftly to remedy.

“The need for such power is very amply demonstrated by the farcical situation in the Storey investigation whereby the HMIC, it appears, was unable by compelling witnesses and documents to verify much of the self-serving information they were being told.

“That is no basis on which to conduct a thorough and credible investigation.”

And Trevor Clarke, a DUP MLA who sits on the Policing Board, said: “If people were genuinely open about what happened and wanted a full investigation to exonerate them, then they should’ve taken part.

“It alarms me that HMIC didn’t have the full powers.”

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Alistair Bushe