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burial plan PSNI did not disperse Bobby Storey funeral crowds for fear of 'widespread violence' - police chief

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Bobby Storey's funeral in Belfast

Bobby Storey's funeral in Belfast

Bobby Storey's funeral in Belfast

PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne has said his officers did not attempt to disperse large crowds at the funeral of IRA veteran Bobby Storey for fear of "widespread violence and disorder".

Mr Byrne, speaking to the BBC, defended how the funeral was handled in west Belfast, when nearly 2,000 people lined the streets despite Northern Ireland being in lockdown during the first wave of coronavirus.

The PSNI's approach to the funeral was in stark contrast to that of Black Lives Matters protests in June, which saw many participants issued with on the spot fines.

Police largely stayed away from the Storey funeral, leaving Sinn Fein stewards in charge of mourners, which included senior Sinn Fein politicians Michelle O'Neill and Conor Murphy.

Mr Byrne said: "Way before my time the approach this organisation has taken is to respect what an important event a funeral is to people in the end part of somebody's life, reflecting on that life and respecting the time to grieve.

"I think it was a fair judgement if we tried to stop and disperse that funeral on that day we would have seen widespread violence and disorder and that could have been in nobodies interests.

"We worked within the regulations, we worked within the practice that we would see normally, we gathered evidence."

An investigation into the funeral is now being led by an independent senior officer. Mr Byrne said the investigation is nearly finished.

Mr Byrne said the PSNI had not abdicated its responsibilities during the Storey funeral.

"We are in nobody's pocket, we do not collude with anybody, we just have to use discretion which is at the heart of our policing style," he said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill is one of 24 people under investigation about the funeral. She later admitted the public health message had been undermined.

Mr Byrne said it was not appropriate to comment on what the PSNI and Sinn Fein discussed in advance of the funeral.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the public were "entitled" to know if there was a deal or not between the police and Sinn Fein.

He told the BBC's Stephen Nolan show: "Our members on the Northern Ireland Policing Board will be pressing the chief constable on this.

"If the PSNI has not done anything wrong and they have not got anything to hide then they should come forward and tell the people of Northern Ireland what arrangements were agreed with Sinn Fein regarding the Bobby Storey funeral.

"That is important because on Sunday past police visited a small church in Tandragee and ordered the church to close even though the people were there for private prayer.

"They were asked to stop and leave the building. I understand police are investigating that."

He added: "People in Northern Ireland will want to the know that there is a level playing field here.

"The chief constable has talked in the past about transparency and that is what we need.

"I recognise at times there are security sensitivities, but I do not think that necessarily applies and if it does it is up to the chief constable to explain."

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