Northern Ireland news

PPS announces review of decision not to bring charges over Bobby Storey funeral

Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

THE Public Prosecution Service's (PPS) decision not to prosecute two dozen Sinn Féin members over alleged Covid regulation breaches at Bobby Storey's funeral is to be reviewed.

The announcement came just 24 hours after the PPS said there would be no charges resulting from the police investigation into last June's funeral, which was attended by Sinn Féin executive ministers and other senior party figures.

Tuesday's decision sparked an angry response, with DUP leader Arlene Foster urging Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron to consider their positions.

The PPS said the review is in line with its procedures and comes after a number of requests for the decision to be reconsidered, including one from an elected representative on behalf of a member of the public.

The process will be carried out by a senior PPS lawyer who was not previously involved in considering the cases.

The lawyer will be assisted and advised by a independent senior counsel, who also had no previous input into the original decisions.

"We recognise that the prosecutorial decisions are one component part of more holistic concerns expressed recently, as is evident from media reporting and commentary," a PPS statement said.

"For the sake of clarity, further enquiry around why the regulations were amended in short succession before and after the funeral or the conduct of police in engaging with funeral organisers will largely be beyond the scope of any prosecutorial review, save for any bearing they have on whether or not the test for prosecution is considered to be met."

Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon said her party would await the outcome of the review.

She said police and the PPS had carried out an "independent and impartial investigation" with which Sinn Féin representatives had co-operated.

"The report published by the PPS on March 30 set out its judgement which was made independently and impartially by a team of senior prosecutors and senior counsel," Ms Dillon said.

"We understand that the PPS has now requested a review the findings of that independent investigation. We await the outcome of that review."

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons welcomed yesterday's announcement, saying the original outcome "did not make sense to anyone".

"The Covid regulations were clear and obvious to virtually every single person in Northern Ireland and there were no issues raised at the time of Bobby Storey's funeral about either clarity or consistency," he said.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said the original PPS decision caused a "lot of hurt and frustration".

"It is right that it will reviewed and the outstanding questions must be answered," he said.

"We are clear that Sinn Féin ministers must be held to account for a flagrant breach of the regulations and the damage to the most important public health message in a generation."

Ulster Unionist health minister Robin Swann also said the PPS review was the "right thing to do".

"I think that's something that has been asked for since they came out with their statement yesterday, it's also something that we'll be happy to engage with when they do appoint someone," he said.

"If the PPS is still of a mind, if law in Northern Ireland is confusing, I'll interact with them, my department will interact with them because these regulations were something that were brought forward to manage a very different time, something we've never experienced in Northern Ireland before, we were facing a global pandemic, these regulations were brought in to save lives and protect people and I don't recognise the comment the PPS made in regards to the confusion that's there."

The minister added that while some laws by their nature were "very confusing" this was not an excuse to disobey them.

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