Public service and personal sacrifice

  • 3 October 2012
  • From the section UK
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At lunchtime today the normally bustling city of Manchester paused to pay tribute.

Hundreds of police officers from every rank and branch filed solemnly into the cathedral as thousands more lined the streets, boots and service medals shining in the autumn sun.

Among the many ordinary Mancunians who stopped to pay their respects, few knew Nicola Hughes. But they know what she stood for; the values she lived for; the values she died for.

It was a crime that saw the nation catch its breath: two constables hurrying to answer what they thought was a call for help from a stranger when, upon the ordinary lawn of an unremarkable house, their lives were cut short in an explosion of bullets and grenade shrapnel.

'Act of solidarity'

Such extreme, unprovoked violence is mercifully rare in this country and that, in part, is what made it so shocking. But the outrage was deepened because the victims were doing their duty: unarmed, young women who had taken an oath to protect and serve others.

From across the United Kingdom, the police family gathered in Manchester - an act of solidarity between colleagues and recognition of the risks all officers swear to accept whenever they wear the badge.

Some came to attend the funeral. But two representatives from each of the 53 UK forces were in the city to help patrol its streets, allowing local officers to say their farewell to a friend and workmate: the gesture a reminder that responsibility for safeguarding our communities never stops.

It was not a day for salutes, but for bowed heads. At the family's request, those policemen and women paying their respects in Manchester did so with a gesture that spoke to the humanity of Nicola Hughes: a moment to grieve; a time to reflect.

Nicola was just 23 years old, having joined Greater Manchester Police three years ago. She died, her mother Susan said, "doing the job she loved".

Her colleague and friend 32-year-old Fiona Bone had served for five years. Tomorrow, the city will pause once again to grieve for the death of one of its constables, an officer described as "a calm, gentle, woman".

Funerals are occasions to mourn what we have lost, but also to remind ourselves what we still have. Today the police paid their respects to a colleague greatly missed. But the public was also paying tribute to those who continue to protect, those who continue to serve.

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