The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has informed the Police Service of its decisions relating to four funerals, including that of Bobby Storey on 30 June 2020. With regard to the case of the Bobby Storey funeral, the PPS has decided that the evidence, as presented, does not pass the first stage of its prosecutorial test as it is unlikely to result in a conviction.
Commenting on today’s announcement Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “The Police Service acknowledges the very significant levels of public interest in this particular case. We understand the immense sacrifices made by people during this pandemic. Enforcing the Coronavirus Regulations has been a consistently challenging and often uncomfortable role for my officers as the Regulations have, by their very nature, involved restricting the rights of the public, but we recognise the requirement to do so in our common interest. We will continue to support the response to this health emergency by promoting adherence to the Regulations."
Mr Byrne continued: “Given some of the funeral participants were members of our accountability body and our employer, and the significant public concerns about the role of police, I asked Deputy Chief Constable Mark Webster of Cumbria Constabulary to lead the investigation into the funeral. DCC Webster and a team of investigators reported 24 individuals to the PPS, recommending prosecution. The investigation moved as quickly as the evidential procedures and legal representations would allow in accordance with the procedural framework and due process. I want to place on record my thanks to Chief Constable Skeer for her support in releasing DCC Webster to this task."
Mr Byrne added: “The PPS decision points to the ambiguity and changing nature of the Coronavirus Regulations in force immediately before and on the day of the funeral which, in their view alone, amounted to an insurmountable hurdle to a successful prosecution. There were nine changes to the Coronavirus Regulations up to this stage of the pandemic which, in the words of the Director of Public Prosecutions himself, ‘had become extremely difficult to navigate and, in certain respects, inconsistent’.
“The decision also addresses the role of the police in our engagement with the organisers. We did engage with the organisers. This was to fulfil our key responsibility to manage public safety. This approach was in line with our tried and tested approach to any major public event and is fully in keeping with UK police guidance. We did not enter into any agreements with the organisers as to their liabilities. We did not make the organisers any promises in terms of the Regulations. Police Commanders did inform the organisers of the need to stay within the Regulations and again reminded the stewards of this on the day of the funeral. We welcome that the PPS concluded that there was no evidence to the contrary. This is further illustrated by the fact that we reported 24 people to the PPS with a recommendation for prosecution. We note the PPS commentary that our engagement could have afforded suspects a reasonable excuse. However, it is also clear from what the PPS have said that the prosecution decision outcome would not have been different even if our approach to engagement had been."
Chief Constable Simon Byrne concluded: “The decision not to prosecute does not change our view that what happened last summer when large numbers of people chose not to ‘stay at home’ at the height of a global pandemic was unnecessary, irresponsible and insensitive. It was wrong.”