This has been the saddest week of my 27 year career in the police service, and yet as the week draws to an end, I feel that the service is actually stronger than ever.

PC Keith Blakelock was killed on 6 October 1985, less than one month after I joined, and I still recall reading those newspaper headlines whilst in my initial training at Bruche and a feeling of sickness in the pit of my stomach. I wondered whether something like that could ever happen to me. Then I quickly put that thought out of my head and concentrated on passing my training.

Every time since then when I hear of another colleague being killed in the line of duty, I have thought ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Because in almost every circumstance, the officer has been on what are often referred to as routine duties. And of course that’s what happened on Tuesday morning to PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone, who had no doubt started their shift in the same way as we all have done, having a laugh and a joke with colleagues, thinking about what they need to do that day. For that was the day on which their young lives were brutally cut short. When I first heard the tragic news on Tuesday I was horrified to hear that two colleagues had been killed on duty, but of course I didn’t know the circumstances at that time. I refer to them as colleagues because even though I had never met Nicola or Fiona, like many police officers, I felt like I knew them. And as far as I am concerned they were members of our ‘police family’. When the news came through later that day that they had been lured into a trap and had been murdered in cold blood, I felt physically sick. I couldn’t believe that anyone could be so cowardly as to do this to two unarmed police officers.

Our President Derek Barnett released a press statement on Tuesday expressing his thoughts about the events and I concur with these completely. Since then Derek has also conducted numerous media interviews where he has continued to communicate this message. A number of questions were asked of Derek during these interviews which I would like to clearly state my view on. The first of these was whether this tragic incident could be the trigger for arming the police service in England and Wales. My initial response is that now is not the time to be considering this issue, but we would be happy to take part in any future debate when the time is more appropriate and emotions have settled. My personal view has always been that I would not want to see an armed police service in this country and indeed would never have joined the police if it had been an armed service back in 1985. I think it would significantly change the relationship between the police and the public, and there is no evidence that I’m aware of to show that fewer officers would be killed in the line of duty in an armed service. Questions have also been asked about whether or not female officers should have been sent to the report of a burglary last Tuesday. I fully understand that sympathy that many members of the public have when any police officers are killed on duty, and that this tends to be heightened when the officer concerned is female, but it is important that the public realise that female officers play as full a role in policing as male officers, and will continue to do so in the future. The gender of an officer should play no part in determining their ability to do their job. Fiona and Nicola were killed because they were police officers and their gender was an irrelevance.

Many people will know that I use Twitter, both in a personal and a professional capacity, and despite my feelings of frustration and sadness on Tuesday, it was good to see the public outpouring of support for the police on there as a result of Tuesday’s shocking events. I also contributed to the book of condolence on the GMP Facebook Site and reading the messages from both colleagues across the country and the general public genuinely brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat.

Then the next day, the police service really showed its true colours. It started with a hashtag on Twitter highlighting a campaign to ‘cover for GMP’. This was a campaign asking officers from around the country to give up their precious time off to go to Manchester on the day of Fiona and Nicola’s funerals to provide operational cover to enable their GMP colleagues to attend was both unique and amazing. Apparently the idea was initially thought up by PC Charlie Wright from Leicestershire Police and then taken on by @ResponseSgt and @ConstableChaos who is collating response on his Facebook page. As I type he has had more than 3500 volunteers! This show of strength and unity by the police family shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, but it is particularly heartening to see at a time when members of the service feel undervalued and morale is described as at its lowest point. ‘Cover for GMP’ has also inspired community members to support the volunteers by offering to provide refreshments for the officers concerned and even accommodation. And it would appear that even Virgin Trains are looking into how they can help by offering free train travel of officers travelling to/from Manchester on the day(s) in question. Simply amazing!

This situation reminds me of the aftermath of the riots last year and the ‘clean up’ campaigns that were generated through social media which brought local communities together. It is a shame that sometimes it takes a tragedy to generate such strength in unity, but I’m so pleased that there are some positive consequences of the saddest week of my career.

Irene Curtis President Elect

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