Chief Constable challenged over letters to east Antrim loyalist bandsmen

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson has challenged the Chief Constable over the issuing of letters in relation to alleged Covid rule breaches by loyalist band members last year.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 1:00 pm

The DUP representative has written to Simon Byrne questioning why bandsmen have been asked to voluntarily attend police stations to be interviewed.

In a statement, Mr Wilson said he has asked the Chief Constable: “How many of these letters/notices have been sent? What is the basis upon which these allegations have been made? What evidence do the police have of any law breaking relating to these allegations? How this action sits with police apathy towards Sinn Fein and the Storey funeral? If there is any legal obligation to comply with these letters?”

The challenge comes amid the fall-out from the funeral of senior Republican Bobby Storey in Belfast last June and after a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found there was no bias into how police handled the funeral, which was attended by several thousand people when Covid pandemic restrictions were in place.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne. Picture by Stephen Davison.

Mr Wilson added: “My advice to all bandsmen who have received these letters is to ignore them.”

He added that “police must explain why they are prepared to pursue one section of the community and not the other”.

“It is little wonder that the unionist community have lost confidence in the upper echelons of the PSNI,” Mr Wilson continued.

The controversy has led to unionist calls for the Chief Constable to resign.

Sammy Wilson MP.

Alleged two-tier policing has been cited as one of the reasons behind recent loyalist protests across Northern Ireland, including Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey.

A PSNI spokesperson confirmed the Chief Constable has been sent correspondence by Mr Wilson “which is currently receiving attention”.

Welcoming the findings of the HMIC report earlier this week, Mr Byrne said: “We are committed to impartiality and are pleased that the report concludes that there was no bias in our handling of the funeral, and that the same approach would have been taken if the funeral was held within a different community.”

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