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Coronavirus: Byrne takes command of the PSNI's response as crisis grows

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Chief Constable Simon Byrne

Chief Constable Simon Byrne

Chief Constable Simon Byrne

Chief Constable Simon Byrne has taken command of the policing response to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

The revelation has prompted speculation that the PSNI is preparing for the possibility of an unprecedented lockdown here to slow the spread of coronavirus.

It is understood Mr Byrne is the only person who has the power to oversee the sweeping and stringent policing measures that would be required to keep people off the streets.

Some of the most senior PSNI officers are understood to be meeting on a daily basis as the fight against Covid-19 gathers pace.

A force-wide email has been sent out informing officers that Mr Byrne has been given "platinum" status.

Under ordinary circumstances the Chief Constable remains operationally neutral, even for major events such as the Twelfth.

Senior colleagues such as the Assistant Chief Constables make all operational decisions under the banner of "gold" command.

One officer said: "The fact that the Chief Constable is now operationally responsible would suggest that there are preparations for policing tactics that we have never seen the likes of in Northern Ireland, or even in the UK.

"I'm sure the same thing is happening across England, Wales and likely Scotland, which shows how seriously the top brass are taking this.

"You only have to look at what is happening in Italy and other countries in Europe to see that we're heading for a lockdown."

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "A platinum group will be established, at the discretion of the Chief Constable, in response to exceptional circumstances.

"The purpose of the platinum group is to allow the gold commander to provide the Chief Constable with a briefing concerning operations which have, or are likely to have, significant implications for the PSNI on a geographical or strategic basis or for public confidence in the PSNI; to discuss his/her strategy with the group in order to benefit from their experience and expertise, and to assist the Chief Constable to be in a position to brief senior strategic stakeholders on ongoing or imminent operations."

The measure comes as Nutts Corner Market controversially opened at the weekend, leading to widespread calls for police to step in and stop the event.

Meanwhile, the PSNI is understood to be prepping all officers of the likelihood that they will be required for front line duties in the weeks and months ahead.

Promotion processes are being postponed across the UK and an email has been sent out to all PSNI officers warning that they must be in a "state of readiness".

Controversial measures to cut the PSNI overtime bill have also been removed after Mr Byrne said contingency plans are in place if high numbers of his officers are struck down by coronavirus.

These include 12-hour shifts and cancelled rest days, he said.

Concerns have been raised over the safety of officers in recent weeks amid fears they have not been provided with adequate specialist equipment to protect them from Covid-19.

Officers are now being sent out to calls wearing masks and suits where concerns have been reported that someone at the scene may have coronavirus.

However, the Police Federation has called for additional protection to be put in place, including the use of spit hoods.

These are placed over the heads of prisoners to stop them from spitting at officers.

It has also asked for officers to be tested for coronavirus to reduce the number of police absent from work.

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said: "We are not as well-resourced as other parts of the UK. We do not have cadets. We do not have access to military, so, we are very much left on our own.

"It is therefore imperative that testing for police officers is brought in without any further delay. This will increase workforce resilience and will be a major factor in ensuring that our officers can remain at work.

"We could be left with a skeleton workforce trying to enforce legislation. It is very difficult to predict but I can assure the public that we will do our best. That's what we are here for."

Belfast Telegraph