Storey funeral: ‘I don’t know how PSNI can recover from this’

Ferocious denouncements of the PSNI’s top brass have been expressed at Stormont today in the wake of the latest controversial report into the funeral of Bobby Storey.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 5:37 pm
Trevor Clarke in the Assembly today

Unionists of all stripes rounded on the police for its handling of the colossal ceremony on June 30 last year, with one DUP MLA stating: “I do not know how the police can recover from this.”

It follows the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on Monday, which found that any PSNI failings were “not especially serious” and were limited largely to poor record-keeping.

This was despite the report’s revelation that the footage which police had filmed was “of little, if any, evidential value” when it came to identifying offenders, because it was shot from so far away.

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Another of its core findings was that the PSNI had decided keeping the peace was its top priority on the day. This was followed by ensuring no terror paraphernalia was displayed – with enforcing Covid laws coming a “distant” third.

“We spoke to an experienced police inspector who had worked in the community in different roles for many years,” the report said.

“Their role was to monitor the funeral and community feeling, and report back to the Silver Commander [the second-in-charge].

“The inspector was in a vehicle that didn’t stop at any time. They told us that stopping may have been interpreted as provocative and likely to generate a hostile response from mourners.

“There was a sense that the police were being tolerated.

“The inspector stated: ‘I knew it was the sort of gathering that any attempt on my part to stop and engage would not have gone down well. I was getting a clear picture from the steely looks I was getting’.

“They explained that it was a tense situation. It wasn’t one where police officers would engage with mourners to encourage and explain that they needed to comply with the regulations.”

Mr Allister told MLAs in the Assembly today: “When you hear that a gold commander ordered that a helicopter should not oversee the wake event, where hundreds of people were gathered, and that the video cameras were so far back that the footage was useless, the conclusion is inescapable: the streets of west Belfast were deliberately, consciously surrendered on the day of the Storey funeral.

“There might not have been any shots over the coffin on that occasion, but there were certainly shots called by Sinn Fein.

“We had the despicable scene of our compliant Chief Constable toadying to all of that. What he did on that day means, in my book, that confidence in him is incapable of ever being restored.”

DUP MLA Mervyn Storey dubbed Sinn Fein’s actions “an embarrassment to law and order” adding: “Not for the first time in the history of Sinn Féin have we seen it use the dead or the dying for its own agenda.”

Fellow DUP man Trevor Clarke said: “I don’t know how the police can recover from this.

“It is not about religion or people’s background; it is about the fact that there were rules, and the deputy First Minister of this Government was there in clear breach.”

Mike Nesbitt, former UUP leader, made reference to the police admissions that officers were keeping their distance.

He asked: “Can we take part in whatever criminality we want on the streets of Belfast and, when the police come, just give them a steely look and they will back off?”

Gerry Kelly, IRA-bomber-turned North Belfast MLA, implored the Assembly to “move on”.

He said: “This was the third, possibly fourth, investigation into these events. As the result of each comes out, the DUP does not accept it.

“Therefore, at some stage, instead of just rejecting every report that comes along, maybe we will get to the point at which we can move on.

“A family is grieving, and it also has to move on.

“Every time this comes up, it affects the family as well.

“Maybe we can take some cognisance of that when we deal with this. I say that with an understanding of the hurt caused on that day.

“In the end, my appeal is that we move on.”

Dolores Kelly of the SDLP (who, like all the MLAs quoted here, is a member of the Policing Board) said: “This is not a green and orange issue, and I would regret its ever turning into one.

“Mr Storey’s family is grieving, but so are the families of over 2,000 others [who died with coronavirus] – people who were unable to be at the bedside as their loved one gasped for breath.”

She concluded: “Let me be clear: in my view and in that of many ordinary people who knew what the spirit of the regulations meant, there is a political elite in the republican movement – Sinn Fein, in particular – who believes that the regulations do not apply to it.”

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Alistair Bushe