‘Furious’ : Derry & Strabane reps react after PSNI declined to attend special meeting over policing concerns

Derry & Strabane representatives have expressed frustration after Derry’s police chief said he was not going to attend a meeting to address concerns over policing operations in the city and district.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 12:01 pm
Derry & Strabane District Commander Darrin Jones

The local District Commander, Chief Superintendant Darrin Jones had been expected to attend the special Council meeting earlier today after a motion demanding he do so was tabled last month.

However in a letter received yesterday and read out at the start of the meeting Chief Superintendant Jones said he wouldn’t be attending.

The offices of both PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and the chair of the NI Policing Board Doug Barrett had previously written to the Council to say they would not be attending.

In the letter, read to Councillors and Alderman by Council Chief Executive John Kelpie, Chf. Supt. Jones wrote: “As the local Police Commander, I am always keen to engage formally and informally with stakeholders and especially local representatives to discuss local policing and have made real efforts in this regard since my arrival.

“Of course the forum for formal discussion of local policing matters is with the Derry City & Strabane District Policing and Community Safety Partnership Policing Committee. The PCSP Policing Committee has the relevant statutory powers for oversight of local policing and gaining the co-operation of the public with the police in preventing crime and enhancing community safety of the district in partnership with other agencies.

“I personally attend the committee on a regular basis to discuss policing issues and am conscious that the issues currently under consideration have been raised at previous meetings.

“Therefore, having reflected on this and out of respect for the committee, it is my view that the questions that were to put before the council meeting tomorrow should in the first instance be brought before the policing committee of the PCSP. If after that the matters in hand cannot be resolved, we can consider what other steps might be required.”

Chair of the meeting, Mayor Brian Tierney said after being notified of the correspondence he phoned Chf. Supt. Jones and relayed his own “personal disappointment that they had decided to decline this invitation”.

“I explained to the District Commander why I felt it was important that they attended today’s meeting and had a discussion with elected members around some of the very, very serious issues that we felt needed addressed,” he said.

Mayor Tierney said he fully respected the integrity of the PCSP and other bodies, but pointed out in his conversation that accountability was not limited to such structures and there was nothing preventing police from attending.

Independent Colr. Raymond Barr took issue with the ‘11th hour decision’ by the PSNI and claimed it indicates “an unwillingness to discuss and attempt to remedy the real problems in our community.”

Colr. Barr urged parties who sit on the Policing Board to consider the relevance of doing so.

Aontú Colr. Emmet Doyle, who had tabled the earlier motion calling for the special meeting said he was “furious that any public servant would feel it within their power to determine whether or not they should be accountable to people’s spokespersons.”

Colr. Doyle said the Council had all collectively understood there were some very serious issues to do with policing in the city and district.

He then proposed a new motion demanding that the District Commander attend a Council meeting and condemning him for ”pulling out at the 11th hour”.

Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher pointed out that none of those asked to attend have done so. “What does that tell us? It tells us that the parties that told us they would hold the PSNI to account have failed.”

PBP Colr. Shaun Harkin said the “last minute announcement is very much shocking”.

Independent Colr. Sean Carr questioned why it was allowed that questions due to be raised at the meeting were sent in advance to police, something he felt should not happen.

SDLP Colr. Sean Mooney said there was a litany of serious matters that elected members wanted to take up with the local District Commander, and supported Colr. Doyle’s motion.

Also expressing support for it, Sinn Féin Colr. Christopher Jackson said: “We believe there is structures in place to challenge the PSNI when policing standards fall short of what we in our communities expect and we as a party have been continuously challenging the PSNi when we have experienced bad policing and there has been many examples of it and we will not abdicate our responsibility in challenging the PSNI and trying to improve the police service for our community.”

He added that it was extremely disappointing that the District Commander had not attended the meeting, and spoke of the concern and anger that was out there in the community and the missed opportunity to relay that to him. “We would hope the District Commander does rethink the decision he took at the 11th hour.”

Sinn Féin Colr. Michaela Boyle also expressed her disappointment as both an elected rep and a PCSP member. “Some of the issues in terms of my line of questioning would have pre-dated the District Commander,” she said, including high turnover of officers in the Strabane area.

Also supporting the motion, DUP Ald. Maurice Devenney also said: “I have to say I’m disappointed the District Commander isn’t here today.”

He added that the DUP will be meeting with him to discuss the issue of not attending today. “I’d have liked this to have been an open forum today,” he said.

Colr. Doyle’s motion passed with 29 Colrs and Aldermen voting for it, none against and two abstentions from People Before Profit.

Colr. Gallagher also proposed that the Committee for the Administration of Justice, who were recently commissioned by the Council to look into policing tactics, be invited into a meeting with the Council to give a presentation on it.

Sinn Féin Colr. Sandra Duffy said they had a list of questions including on stop and search and policing operations and were disappointed that police hadn’t turned up to answer them, and supported Colr. Gallagher’s motion.

Colr. Mooney also supported the motion, calling it “appropriate and relevant”.

Colr. Carr, who originally proposed commissioning the CAJ report, welcomed the proposal to bring CAJ in, while Ald. Devenney said they had no problem supporting the motion.

Chair of the local PCSP, SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly said he had made the point that given the range of issues to do with policing in the north west he felt police should take the opportunity to publicly discuss those matters with the whole Council, given that with the pandemic there was no opportunity for public attendance at PCSP meetings.

The letter from the Policing Board declining the offer to attend stated that the local PCSP was the proper mechanism for concerns to be addressed.

The Chief Constable’s office meanwhile stated that it was important the accountability framework defined in law was upheld and that Simon Byrne would continue to fulfil this accountability through the Policing Board.

“The Chief Constable understands that Chief Superintendant Jones will represent the PSNI at this special meeting to brief your members,” the letter, dated April 29, 2021, continues.