Police under fire for paying £3,000 to outside group after protest fines
The founder of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Ulster has said the African community must be included in efforts to address a lack of confidence in policing following a row over protests in 2020.
Cuthbert Arutura was speaking after the PSNI paid an outside body £3,000 to help it overcome the lack of trust it faces in some communities.
Police were heavily criticised for their handling of local BLM protests in June 2020, organised in response to the murder of George Floyd in the US.
A rally at Londonderry’s Guildhall Square on June 6 resulted in 57 people being fined for alleged Covid-19 breaches.
A further 15 people attending a similar demonstration at Custom House Square in Belfast were also fined.
However, no fines were issued at a right-wing ‘Protect our Statues’ protest outside Belfast City Hall a week later.
All the fines were eventually refunded in August, with Chief Constable Simon Byrne apologising after the PSNI watchdog found the handling of the protests had been unfair and discriminatory.
According to a report by Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson, this treatment was “not intentional and not based on race or ethnicity”.
However, confidence in policing in minority communities was damaged as a result.
In an effort to help build bridges in the aftermath of the BLM protests, the PSNI awarded an organisation called MutualGain £5,000 to facilitate three preliminary developmental sessions in January 2021.
The organisation later returned £2,000 after it was unable to complete the work because of staff sickness.
The group describes its mission as empowering organisations and communities to connect in the space “which lies between the state and the individual”.
The PSNI said it approached MutualGain to run the sessions because it was an established service provider with a recognised specialism in the area of confidence in policing.
It added the work would help create a process to rebuild trust and formulate an action plan.
Mr Arutura sent the PSNI a Freedom of Information (FoI) request regarding MutualGain’s work but was told there was no “contract of service” with the organisation.
After Mr Arutura requested an internal review of the FoI, he was informed there was an agreement between the PSNI and MutualGain to deliver three sessions.
“My interest was how we were going to solve the problems that were highlighted by the Policing Board and Police Ombudsman reports, and the recommendations,” he said.
“I wanted to find out what was being done to solve those problems and if there was anything new from my 28 years of working with the police.
“I had this uncomfortable feeling that they were doing the same old things again.
“So, I wrote the FoI to establish what MutualGain was supposed to establish.
“What were they going to provide the PSNI at the end of the consultation and how were they selected? What was the procurement procedure?”
MutualGain director Susan Ritchie said the work included carrying out interviews to “inform the co-design of the workshop” and ensure participants were able to share in the way they wanted to.
The PSNI said the money returned by MutualGain had been reassigned to the costs associated with the delivery of ongoing engagement facilitated by the force and “not via a third party”, with a view to designing an action plan to “rebuild the lost trust and confidence”.
Mr Arutura said Africa House, which represents Africans living in Northern Ireland, had a £10,000 grant application turned down by the PSNI in June.
It had planned to use the money to address the issues highlighted at the BLM rallies.
Mr Arutura said the framework of how to heal the divisions must be “transformative, not prescriptive”, and must include the African community.
“The PSNI, the Northern Ireland Office and Stormont must invest a budget,” he added.
“There is no money at all. This is the strangest thing. There has been no money set aside to deal with BLM. That’s scary. How can you solve the problem if there are no resources?
“They need to stop this idea of prescribing solutions to us. We’re not kids.”
The PSNI said Africa House’s request for funding was declined because all grant funding for the final year 2020/21 had been committed at that time.
“Secondly, MutualGain’s programme was still progressing with the preparation for the second group focus discussion and had produced one report of its initial findings of the issues, as presented by the attendees from the first focus group,” a spokesperson added.
“This report has been shared with all participants.
“Mr Arutura was assured at this first meeting that should spending easements arise in the remaining months of that financial year, this application would be reconsidered.”