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 7.

    Taff1955, please get your facts right, there have been 954 deaths in police custody since 1990. Everyone of these deaths is subject to a Coronor's inquest. Considering that the vast majority of these deaths will be self inflicted as a result of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide I think to accuse the police of being complict in 1400 deaths is irresponsible and a perversion of the facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    These horrific crimes will continue while our legal and penal systems are run by head in the clouds liberal do-gooders and "human rights" advocates. We need to face up to the fact that evil individuals exist and must be separated from greater society by a rope or in a cell for the rest of their natural life. My heart felt condolences to the families and friends of these two brave officers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    This is a terrible tradgedy and my heart goes out to the families of the two policewomen involved. However, there is a significant proportion of police officers who already treat even the law abiding public as if they are scum and as such I'd not want to hand them any further power or control over the public that they are ostensibly there to protect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    A nice title one that applies to nearly all of England & Wales, it does not to a few hard core locations, all of them in urban areas. In such places policing can be ineffective, tackling the thugs takes a long time, often relying on intelligence, CCTV, forensics and with very little public involvement. Policing for the public then does the easier, visible things and sadly the public wonder why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    A terrible act against two innocent police women simply doing their job. These are rare instances and I don't think arming the police will help; it will make it worse. Arming the police will lead to criminals arming themselves to stay one step ahead. There must be another deterrent than guns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The murder of these two WPC's is to shocking for words, the murderer should be locked away in a darkened cell for the rest of his life. By the same token, the police have been directly or indirectly responsible for over 1400 deaths since 1990. How many police have been prosecuted for murder, that is v difficult to find out. I truely believe in justice, but justice for all is true justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Rather live in this country than America where trigger happy police shoot first and ask questions later


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