YESTERDAYmorning 32-year old PC Fiona Bone and 23-year old PC Nicola Hughes went to work as usual but they did not come home.
They never will because, while attending a routine call, they were murdered in cold blood. Later 29-year old Dale Cregan, a man wanted in connection with two other murders, handed himself in. This case is particularly shocking, not only because these two brave young women had the rest of their lives in front of them, but because they appear to have been lured into a trap. This appalling incident is a grim reminder of how the police put their own lives on the line in order to keep the rest of us safe. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Following the reputational damage to the police following the Hillsborough Report, this incident provides some perspective.
Inevitably it raises questions about whether such tragedies can be avoided and whether more police, or even all police, should be armed routinely. Cregan had been at the top of the police wanted list for 40 days. If, as seems likely, it was he who made the call alleging a burglary, there will be questions about whether the voices and voice patterns of high-profile suspects form part of surveillance and whether this could have been picked up. Another issue is why the address in Abbey Gardens in Greater Manchester was not on the police intelligence system and whether anyone was sheltering him.
Could these two women have been better protected? Even on apparently routine calls such as this ones, police often wear stab vests. However, they cannot offer protection from bullets fired at close range and it is impractical for police officers to be armoured from head to toe while conducting routine calls.
As for arming the police, it is important to recognise that police murders are, mercifully, rare in the UK. The last occasion when two officers died in a single incident was in 1969 following a bank raid in Linwood. Howard Wilson, himself a former police officer, spent 33 years in a Scottish jail after pleading guilty to both murders. A third officer was seriously injured.
Calls by pressure groups such as Protect the Protectors should be treated with caution. It would be inappropriate, impractical and undesirable to send an armed response unit to every call. Arming all officers risks making violence worse. In the US officers have been shot by their own weapons and innocent bystanders killed or injured. In a country where, right back to the days of Robert Peel, the principle of policing by consent has been the cornerstone of government policy, any change to current practice requires careful consideration. Now is not the time for that. Rather, today we should reflect on one of the darkest days in the history of British policing and mourn the loss of two fine young officers.
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