Northern Ireland

Bobby Storey: External officer to oversee PSNI investigation

Bobby Storey's funeral in west Belfast Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The arrangements for Bobby Storey's funeral on 30 June in west Belfast are still being debated

NI's chief constable has requested an external police officer to oversee the investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 restrictions at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.

The funeral has caused a damaging row in the Stormont Executive.

In a statement, the Chief Constable Simon Byrne said he had spoken to the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

He said he had requested an external senior officer from the National Police Chiefs' Council.

"I have taken this decision to ensure independent oversight of the investigation," he added.

Mr Byrne also said the PSNI has forwarded a complaint from a member of the public regarding police actions leading up to the funeral on 30 June to the Police Ombudsman.

Hundreds of people lined the streets of west Belfast for Mr Storey's funeral and it was also attended by senior Sinn Féin representatives including the Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and the Finance Minister Conor Murphy.

Their attendance sparked a row at Stormont with other parties accusing Sinn Fein of breaching the coronavirus restrictions and undermining the executive's message on Covid-19.

Both Ms O'Neill and Mr Murphy have denied breaching the social distancing measures while at the funeral.

A number of pallbearers were pictured carrying Mr Storey's coffin, including former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly.

Stormont guidance on funerals makes it clear that coffin lifts are not recommended, unless all pallbearers are from the same household.

It says "it is unlikely that pallbearers would be able to maintain a 2m distance from each other, and such practices should not be permitted".

The Department of Health said the advice applied to all funerals, regardless of the cause of death.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Sinn Féin's leader and deputy leader attended, along with former leader Gerry Adams (centre)

'Sensible and appropriate move'

The DUP have welcomed the Chief Constable's decision to bring in an external officer to lead the investigation.

The party's Policing Board group leader Mervyn Storey said it was an "entirely sensible and appropriate move".

He added: "We were concerned about the perceptions around the PSNI's independence to investigate the Bobby Storey funeral as well as other issues.

"The scenes in west Belfast and at Roselawn left many feeling there were two tiers in the legal system.

"It is vital that this investigation sends a clear message that no one is above the law and we are all equally subject to the law.

"Restoring credibility to the Covid-19 regulations will be a long road but the police has a key role to play."

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