A police watchdog has ruled that the Metropolitan Police acted “appropriately” at a vigil for Sarah Everard in South London earlier this month. At the same time, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) called the media coverage of the event a “public relations disaster” that damaged public confidence in policing.
The inspectorate found that officers did not communicate enough on the night leading to scenes of women being handcuffed and removed from crowds on Clapham Common. I would argue however that the failure to communicate happened long before the actual evening in question. Why was it impossible to find a compromise that would have allowed a safe, Covid-secure and dignified event to go ahead? How much time, planning and effort would it have required to erect a simple perimeter, hand out masks to those entering through a single point and politely request that people gave each other some space?
Let me be clear that I’m not defending or attacking either side in this story. I’m just pointing out how important it is to communicate and wherever possible find a compromise. Some politicians might also be regretting their comments immediately after the event.
There’s another story about mass gatherings and Covid rules currently in the news.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has not recommended prosecution for anyone concerned in relation to the funeral of Bobby Storey.
A police file has been with the PPS since December with the actions of 24 elected Sinn Féin representatives examined, including Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.
The funeral attracted 2,000 mourners at a time when Covid restrictions were in place.
Mr Storey, 64, died in June last year.
First Minister Arlene Foster has called for Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign, arguing that his position is now “untenable”.
Mr Storey was a senior republican figure and had formerly been the head of intelligence for the IRA in the 1990s.
The attendance of many senior Sinn Féin politicians at his funeral in west Belfast, at a time when strict limits on gatherings were in place, caused a political furore.
Copyright BBC News.
What’s of note here is that the Police Service of Northern Ireland acknowledged that it had engaged with Sinn Féin and felt it was the correct thing to do during Covid times. The sectarian nature of Northern Irish politics however means that Chief Constable Simon Byrne is facing calls for his resignation. Having reported on events in Northern Ireland for many years I know the importance of remaining objective and impartial. I can only think with dread however what the result would have been if the funeral had ended in violence.
Just finally, almost every front page today features an image of a packed beach or park as the hottest March day since 1968 coincided with the slightest easing in Covid restrictions. “Don’t blow it now” was the warning from Health Secretary Matt Hancock. After a year of on-off lockdown misery let’s hope people are listening.