No local police commander has the right to remove or relocate memorials to officers killed in the line of duty, an assistant chief constable has warned.
The strong message from Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin follows a public outcry over the re-siting of commemorative plaques in a Londonderry station to a photocopying area.
Patten was quite clear – they stay how they are and where they arePSNI ACC Stephen Martin
Addressing the Policing Board on Thursday, ACC Martin said the proper protocols had not been adhered to by the district commander based at Strand Road – and that a new directive had been circulated to ensure there is no repetition. ACC Martin also conceded that Superintendent Mark McEwan 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 a murdered RUC officer who is commemorated on one of the plaques – along with 40 others – claimed the memorial had been moved to “appease republicans”.
ACC Martin also told the board that memorials “will be treated with respect”.
He pointed out that more than 70 police stations had closed since the Patten reforms were implemented and “that all memorials have been re-sited within stations and rededicated”.
By Thursday night, almost 2,800 people had signed an online petition at Change.org, calling for the marble tablets - in tribute to both RUC and PSNI officers killed since the beginning of the Troubles - to be returned to its original location close to the station enquiry office.
Ahead of a meeting with some of the bereaved families and DUP representatives on Friday morning, the son of Reserve Constable John Olphert - who was shot dead in the city by the IRA in 1983 - said he would attending and calling for Supt McEwan to “step down” as commander for the region.
Mark Olphert said: “I never thought I’d have to confront a police officer with regards to keeping the memory of murdered police officers alive. The continued airbrushing of the force from history, just to appease republicans, is sickening.
“My father is named on the [Strand Road] memorial and I have had enough of attempts to demonise the RUC GC.”
Mr Olphert told the News Letter his efforts to have the memorial returned was a fight “he would rather not be having” but said: “My world was taken the day he left.”
He said the families would have strong words for Supt McEwan when they meet this morning: “That memorial doesn’t belong to the area commander, it belongs to the people whose names are on it - the families. To not even consult us was disgusting and we will be asking him to resign [as district commander]. It is an integrity issue and with a police officer integrity is non negotiable. The plaques are there to show people that there was a sacrifice made. To say it offends all nationalists is wrong, because nationalists have signed the petition.
“There is no dignity to have it beside a photocopier - where is the dignity where is the respect? There is none.”
In response to the initial criticism of his decision, Supt McEwan said: “It was never my intention to cause any distress or hurt and I wholeheartedly apologise for any distress this may have caused.”
At Thursday’s Policing Board meeting, ACC Drew Harris said Chief Constable George Hamilton “has taken a very active interest” in developments around the Strand Road memorial situation, and said Mr Hamilton “very much regrets not being here for the public session to express his regret.”
Relatives of Constable Phillipa Reynolds, the last PSNI officer to be killed on duty, have also signed the online petition.
Her 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.