No prosecutions recommended by PPS over Bobby Storey funeral

Prosecutors in Northern Ireland have not recommended the prosecution of any individuals for alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations last year at the funeral of Bobby Storey.

The Public Prosecution Service has considered police evidence files on 24 people, including several senior members of Sinn Féin.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill was among those interviewed by police over the scenes at Bobby Storey's funeral in west Belfast in June.

The funeral has been one of the most controversial events of the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, former president Gerry Adams, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy, TD Pearse Doherty, Policing Board members Gerry Kelly and Linda Dillon, and MLA Martina Anderson were among senior republicans who attended.

Over 1,000 people lined the streets for the funeral procession at a time when strict Covid-19 regulations were in place. Credit: PA

The Director of Public Prosecutions said he acknowledges the concern around the attendances at the funeral.

However, Stephen Herron added that the coronavirus regulations had become "extremely difficult to navigate" because of various amendments, and that they were in some respects "inconsistent".

"Prosecutions can only be brought where the available evidence provides a reasonable prospect of proving, beyond reasonable doubt, a breach of the criminal law," Mr Herron said.

"As a result of the factors considered, we have concluded that the prosecution could not prove any breach of the regulations to the required standard.

"Whether considered alone or in combination, the two reasons outlined - that is the lack of clarity and coherence within the regulations and the prior engagement between organisers and police - would pose an insurmountable difficulty if any of the reported individuals were prosecuted.

"This is because they could all avail of a defence of reasonable excuse in terms of their actual or reasonably perceived compliance with a complex set of regulations and/or their reliance on the prior engagement with PSNI."

Mr Herron further said: “The law as it applied to the Storey funeral was changed significantly on the evening before the funeral and further amended two days later.

"Even though prosecutions are not being brought on this occasion, they are being brought for breaches in relation to funerals at a point in time when the regulations were clear andcoherent.

“As has been evident in other jurisdictions, the law relating to permissible conduct in the course of the pandemic is not always clear cut and this can be challenging when it comes to enforcement of what are essentially health regulations in a criminal justicecontext.

“Prosecutions can only be considered in light of the regulations in force at the particular point in time of the alleged breach.

"It was necessary for all relevant facts and circumstances in this case to be considered carefully and independently following a thorough investigation.”Jordan Moates examines the political repercussions of the decision: