'No takeover of Roselawn' for Storey funeral, says probe
An internal Belfast City Council report has found "no political intent" in the decision-making around Bobby Storey's cremation at Roselawn Cemetery.
The document, which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph, reveals that council chief executive Suzanne Wylie received two phone calls from Sinn Fein about the numbers who could attend the cremation.
But there is no suggestion that Ms Wylie at any time acted inappropriately.
The report says the decision by Nigel Grimshaw, the council's director of city and neighbourhood services to allow up to 30 mourners to attend the Storey cremation on June 30 was taken “in the context of managing potential issues if numbers arrived and demands for access were made”.
He now acknowledges that it was “a mistake for which he takes responsibility”, and he regrets its impact on the eight other families.
“This was in no way deliberate or politically motivated,” the report adds.
It says that working arrangements for senior council officers were incredibly difficult and stressful during the coronavirus crisis with “long hours worked without leave”.
Those circumstances may have ”played a significant part” in Mr Grimshaw not seeing his decision “through a wider and more forensic lens”.
The report notes that, as Mr Storey was being buried, Ms Wylie was “dealing with a serious personal family issue”.
This meant that she couldn’t have an in-depth discussion with Mr Grimshaw and “an important means of scrutiny was lost”.
The report also rejects claims that more than 60 mourners were present at Roselawn for the former IRA leader's cremation on June 30 or that republicans took control of the cemetery.
It says that 28 mourners were present, along with seven stewards who stood apart from the funeral party. It rejects speculation that there were paramilitary trappings at the funeral.
Decision failed to take account of the perception of differential treatment
The report states that "an operational decision" was taken to permit up to 30 mourners for the Storey funeral.
"There appears to have been a focus on this as a profile event," it says and asserts that the decision was taken and signed off by Nigel Grimshaw.
It states: "The decision failed to take account of the perception of differential treatment, the feelings of the families and the political context."
The report, drawn up by city solicitor John Walsh, was presented to the party group leaders on Thursday night. It states that "political contact in the arrangements for Mr Storey's funeral came in the form of two phone calls from Sinn Fein to the chief executive - one on Thursday 25 June and one the next day".
"This amounted to notifying the chief executive that the cremation of Mr Storey was planned and requesting details of numbers who could attend. No information was given and the chief executive undertook to have this information provided."
Contact for "the individual providing stewarding arrangements on behalf of the family for the funeral" was given to Ms Wylie who passed it on to the council's director of city and neighbourhood services Mr Grimshaw.
The report states that, during a discussion with a senior PSNI officer on plans for another high-profile funeral, Mr Grimshaw raised Mr Storey's cremation with him.
He was told another senior PSNI officer would be in contact but this never occurred.
The report says a marked PSNI car did stop at Roselawn's gates and officers had a brief talk with the cemetery's wardens.
It says that seven republican stewards arrived in two cars.
"There have been no reports of intimidation or harassment of (council cemetery) staff.
"To the contrary, I am advised by council officers that the occasion was respectful."
The report states that there were no paramilitary trappings, guard of honour or tricolour on Mr Storey's coffin.
It says that council officers described the occasion as a "low-key dignified send-off".
The report states: "The gates of Roselawn were controlled by council wardens at all times. A review of CCTV shows two men (stewards) initially go to the gates at 15.52, one of whom moved away within a few minutes. The remaining middle-aged man stands discretely in the background, coming forward to identify those cars that are admitted into the cemetery grounds by the wardens.
"There is no suggestion from the images of any concern on the part of these wardens.
"There is nothing in the CCTV footage that provides any evidence that Roselawn was under control of persons other than council officials."
The report says that 28 mourners were present at the cremation. "This is taken from a head count carried out by a member of staff which tallies with the estimate made by a warden that the number of mourners was in the high 20s," it states.
While some staff were sent home, 15 remained on site throughout, the document states: "We are satisfied that there was no political intent in decision making in relation to the cremation of Bobby Storey."
The report says the council is "following up" with families denied the same treatment as Storey's at Roselawn "to ascertain if there is anything we can do that will give them some comfort".
Yesterday, the council said it will refund cremation fees to eight families denied access to Roselawn on the day of Mr Storey's funeral, and would help facilitate memorial services at a future date.