The police are the public and vice versa


Police killed in attack in Mottram, Greater Manchester

One can see it etched on the faces of young bobbies just beyond the fluttering tape which marks the edge of the crime scene. The murder of two of their friends and colleagues has left them in deep shock and grief.

There is anger in their eyes too, but they know above all they must remain professional. Greater Manchester Police find themselves in the role of both crime investigators and crime victims.

The killing of policemen and women in the line of duty is mercifully rare on mainland Britain. A total of 76 officers have lost their lives since 1945, each one a tragedy but a roll of honour that reminds us these crimes are notable for their unexpectedness.

Indeed, before we consider how society might respond to the deaths in Manchester's Tameside district on Tuesday, it is probably worth reminding ourselves that homicide (murders and manslaughter cases) are at their lowest level for almost 30 years. Gun crime has been falling steadily for a decade - in 2011-12 there were 39 fatal shootings, 20 fewer than the previous year.

PC Fiona Bone and PC Nicola Hughes were killed in the attack Police believe PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were deliberately "drawn" to the scene

What emerges from the police briefings and local chatter is that decent communities on the outskirts of Manchester have been infected by the toxic morality of organised criminal gangs. It is a cancer that senior officers admit is hard to destroy because the law-abiding are frightened to co-operate.

Even a substantial £50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Dale Cregan did not loosen tongues. People must have known where he was - he is a well-known and distinctive character - but in the end he gave himself up to police on Tuesday.

Indeed, there is evidence that Cregan enjoyed some popularity on the estates where he operated. In the warped world of gangland politics, the issue can be less about what is right and wrong and more a simple case of "whose side are you on?"

Police use of firearms 2010-11

  • Authorised in 17,209 operations, says Home Office figures for England and Wales - a decrease of 1,347 (7%) on previous year
  • 6,653 authorised firearms officers - (5% decrease)
  • 13,346 operations involving armed response vehicles (6% decrease)
  • Three incidents in which police discharged a conventional firearm (down from six incidents)

In thinking about how to break down what was described as a "conspiracy of silence", the Chief Constable of Great Manchester Police Sir Peter Fahy has told me that key is the question of legitimacy. Only if people in his city believe that the officers on patrol share the values of the communities they serve can one ever expect to break the omerta - Italian for code of silence - his detectives encounter.

He has spoken of his concern that, far from wanting to be armed, neighbourhood constables might consider whether the body armour they routinely wear risks setting them apart. Sometimes it is vital - a true life-saver. But Sir Peter once told me how he had seen bobbies among the T-shirted crowds of a summer community fete looking more like Robocop than Dixon of Dock Green.

There is a balance to be struck between minimising the risk to officers' safety and damaging the relationship between the police and the public they serve.

When GMP moved into their new glass-fronted headquarters recently, Sir Peter asked that the principles of Sir Robert Peel be written on the windows in letters that can be read 50m away. Perhaps the most important is the notion that the police are the public and the public are the police.

It is that, Sir Peter tells his officers, which gives the police the legitimacy they require. If the consequence of Tuesday's double murder is a display of militaristic toughness, the troubled inner-city estates may become even more difficult to police.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    @seemack Comment 105:

    This is the same question that to which there was much public debate a while back: how long could/might a (terrorist - why should they be different?) suspect be detained without charge or trial, when - although the police have some evidence against them - there isn't enough (to be thought to) convince a jury?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    A recent Magazine piece ( ) included the view of a former senior (colonial) policeman: "that there was a key difference between policemen and soldiers. One worked with a notebook, the other with a rifle."
    One would like that still to be true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Rather than asking whether the police should be regularly armed, we should be questioning the system that forces the CPS to insist the police bail suspected murderers. Had he been remanded in custody, as the police wanted, the murders would not have occurred.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I'm a serving officer in Scotland. I think it's worth mentioning that a number of officers do not want to be armed simply because they do not want the responsibilty. This is because of a blame culture that means if an officer had to use their weapon and cause a fatality, the amount of criticism and immense scrutiny they will face in any circumstance could affectly spell the end of a normal career.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I'm a serving officer for 10 years and carry Taser.

    Those officers were ambushed, had they been armed they MAY of survived, without a firearm they had NO chance. The following countries have armed police and lower murder rates, Portugal, France, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Switzerland. Having visited all of them, I didn't find them unapproachable. Why am I not allowed to protect myself?

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Sadly, two brave unarmed UK police officers murdered - mercifully rare but again the debate rages about arming the police. The conclusion will be the same 'we don't arm our police,’ because since 1966 the utterly false comparison with urban USA is made. Is anyone seriously saying that the British are scared of going to the South of France, Vienna, etc, etc because European police are armed??

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    The police in this country reguarly carried firearms known as comforters on night duty prior to 1936, when firearms were locked in police stations and had to be signed out as needed. The police had cutlasses and all kinds of weapons in the past and it's only relatively recently that we have adopted this dixon of dock green rose tinted image of our police service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Cameron, Clegg, May et al think nothing of decimating our police numbers, budgets, pay, pensions and conditions.
    Please don't pretend you think we are all wonderful - you clearly don't.
    RIP those 2 brave officers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    If it were that easy to come up with the best solution we'd have it by now. Other EU countries have lower crime levels. By comparison with some other countries (N America, parts of Africa, China etc) our crime levels are low. 2 officers died - they shouldn't have. The career crims should NOT be protected by community, but community must be protected if they help police deal with crims of this sort

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    It is a tragic incident. I think everyone's thoughts go to the, family, friends and colleagues of the two officers.

    I knew it wouldn't be long before we had Cameron, Clegg, May et al spouting their spin on how the police do a wonderful job in difficult and dangerous circumstances blah blah blah. We've heard it all before from this group of public officials who don't give two hoots for the police

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    I am shocked. Gun attacks on police are a rarity in Britain; few officers carry deadly weapons. Steve Lloyd, who manages the Police Roll of Honor Trust — a charity devoted to fallen policemen & women, said that 5 officers had been shot dead in the past decade.
    Carrying guns is not the answer: 544 US law enforcement officers were shot to death in @ same period (per FBI).

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Crime is simply out of control in the UK. I checked just one London postcode for July and there were more than 1,100 crimes lone – 36 crimes, many of them violent, every day in one single postcode! Police are given neither the powers nor the manpower to deal with it. It's left wing nonsense that prison doesn't work. It does, but just not for the criminal because they are locked up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I unreservedly condemn the killing of these two police officers. Violence never resolves anything, and extreme voilence like this merely demonstrates a loss of touch with reality/humanity.
    Beyond this we need to ask why police are so disliked in society - you see it on tv in news/fly on the wall programmes. I suggest it is because they enforce unpopular laws & they can only operate with consensus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I think that arming every Police Officer with a firearm would be a very costly, time consuming and training intensive practice. I do, however, think that the time is right to add more Tazers into the frontline; they were offered before but the takeup was very low.
    The people who don't wish to tell the Police about criminality are perpetuating their 'lot' - they have to choose to say 'No.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I too feel their loss, what a waste. As a serving officer we see violent dangerous criminals released from courts daily. If this man has an extensive criminal career, which I expect he does, then why wasn't he locked up. The justice system is broken and this is the clear result. It is so sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Phew, a lot of polarised views. I'm a serving officer and have been confronted with a firearm. I am fortunate enough to still be here. I'm refraining from giving my views on arming but would ask people to consider this: According to the media, the suspect has reported an ongoing burglary - knowing it wouldn't elicit an armed response. If he knew all officers were armed, would he have made the call

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Ironic that you would write an article based on the Peel priciples, Mark, since you're always the first to dredge up graphs and statistics as a stick to beat everyone with.

    Lest we forget that other Peel principle - "The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it."

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    As a serving PC, I and the vast majority of my colleagues do NOT want firearms. They would not have changed this tragedy, and most people, PC's included, won't be able to shoot another human anyway - anyone saying they KNOW they could is a liar. Do not rant and rave about arming the police, or reintroducing the death penalty for that matter, until you actually understand what you're talking about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to stand by and do nothing." Edmund Burke.
    It seems that there are too many people who are prepared to stand by and do nothing. If anything good were to come out of this tragic waste, I hope it's that the idea of community accountability returns, and the good folk find the strength and the voice to stand up and say "no more!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    First the police aren't 'special' citizens, they are just like everyone else & deserve no special laws to protect their particular lives.
    The police should be there to enforce common law only, that is to protect the masses from harm & to prevent theft.
    As for public silence, people on estates who get labelled a grass are in for hell, the police can't protect them so people keep quiet.


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