The Ulster Unionist Party leader has questioned the independence of a police inspectorate review of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s handling of a large republican funeral during the pandemic.
Steve Aiken likened the probe by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to “marking the police service’s own homework”.
Mr Aiken’s comments came after he became the latest unionist political leader to call for the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne over how it dealt with the Bobby Storey funeral.
Explaining why he was calling for Mr Byrne to go before the HMIC report was published, Mr Aiken said the exercise would not make “any difference”.
Unionist demands for the resignation of the chief constable have come after prosecutors cited police engagement with funeral organisers as one reason why they opted not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians who attended the large scale event in west Belfast last June.
The funeral saw about 2,000 mourners line the streets at a time when strict Covid-19 regulations were in place, prompting claims that Sinn Fein had flouted rules it was involved in creating.
Explaining why any prosecution of Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and her 23 party colleagues would likely fail, Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron also cited the repeatedly changing and incoherent nature of Stormont’s coronavirus regulations.
On Thursday, amid intensifying pressure on Mr Byrne, it was announced that the HMIC would be reviewing the PSNI’s handling of the events around the funeral.
Mr Aiken called for Mr Byrne to quit on Thursday night, two days after the PPS non-prosecution rationale was outlined.
His move came after the DUP, the Traditional Unionist Voice party and the Progressive Unionist Party had also called for the chief constable to resign.
Asked in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster on Friday why he was not reserving his opinion until the HMIC concluded its investigations, Mr Aiken said:
“The confidence in the community has been lost now. It’s not going to be restored by her Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary report.
“The concern will have to be that HMIC will come in and do a report and in many cases it will be marking the police service’s own homework.”
Mr Aiken conceded he did not know if the police engagement with the organisers ahead of the funeral involved warnings that Covid-19 regulations needed to be observed.
Mr Byrne has vowed not to quit. He has insisted that police engagement with the organisers of events that have the potential to attract significant crowds is “common practice”.
On Wednesday, the PPS announced a review of its non-prosecution decisions for the 24 Sinn Fein politicians.
The PPS said the move was in line with procedures and came in response to a number of requests.
The review will be carried out by a senior PPS lawyer with the assistance of an independent senior counsel, neither of whom were involved in the original decision-making process.