Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


WHEN a horror happens those who feel it most shout loudest for it to never happen again.

And who wouldn't? For many who've lost a loved one in newsworthy circumstances it is part of the grieving process to talk to journalists, pay tribute to the dead and fix whatever mistake caused it.

That's why the father of Pc Fiona Bone - one of two women police officers killed by gun and grenade in Manchester yesterday - said he wanted the death penalty for the person responsible.

"I never expected this. It's so hard to take," he said. "He deserves to be hanged but I know we'll never get that."

It's why Darren Rathband, the brother of Pc David Rathband who took his own life after being blinded by steroid-crazed gunman Raoul Moat, said all officers should carry guns.

"How many officers need to die before the powers realise that it is the 21st century and you cannot fight crime with an outdated piece of plastic and a bit of spray?" he said. "No job is a routine job and there is always the potential for conflict. We don't go on jobs where people are happy to see us."

It's why Paul Beshenivsky whose Pc wife Sharon was shot dead, said: "I think police, in honesty, should be armed, walking into situations that they're not totally aware of."

It's all very understandable, all easy to say, and all wrong.

We don't have the death penalty for the very logical reason that killing people to prove that killing people is wrong cannot possibly be right. Never mind that you can't always be certain, that convictions can be overturned decades later, or that sometimes criminals can be rehabilitated; if some crimes are so bad they make us want to kill people, it is not acting on that urge which makes us better.

The Police Federation wants the death penalty for people who kill police officers, but then so does Nick Griffin and that's normally a good reason not to do something.

On the same day those two Pcs were shot, a trial in London was hearing the case of a man accused of providing a handgun to Mark Duggan, the alleged crack dealer from Tottenham whose death at the hands of a police marksman last summer sparked four days of riots.

The court heard Mark was under police surveillance when he collected a handgun, wrapped in a sock and hidden in a shoebox. Ten minutes later police surrounded the car he was travelling in, and he was shot dead with a bullet to the chest.

Eyewitnesses at the time said Duggan was pinned to the floor and shot in cold blood, and that police ordered him to stop but he refused. Police investigators wrongly stated he'd shot at officers first, and when the gun was later examined neither it nor the sock had his DNA on it.

Because of the shock of a man being shot in the street, because he did not appear to have a gun in his hand and because of the misleading statements from investigators, people became convinced it was police brutality. Tottenham saw vigils, protests and then full-blown riots which spread across London and even to other cities. Shops were looted, homes burned, the police under attack.

No-one would have suggested for a second last summer that more coppers should have guns. When we saw the rioting unfold in TV pictures from news helicopters with crowds hurling rocks at officers there were calls for water cannon and rubber bullets, but never firearms because it was obvious they could only make things worse.

Nothing has changed since then. Guns are not suddenly magical things which kill only the guilty. Their mistakes are still fatal ones.

Police officers are one of several groups of people who run towards trouble and put themselves in danger for no other reason than they think they ought to. Social workers do the same, ambulance staff, nurses, doctors, and journalists too. They are all attacked in the course of their jobs and all knock on doors they're not sure about only to find a bad person hiding behind it. Should we give them all guns?

Of course not. And as far as the police are concerned it only ups the ante and forces criminals into tooling up to match or outdo them.

The last Police Federation survey found 82 per cent of officers didn't want to be routinely armed. Of those who refused to carry a gun, 56 per cent said they'd leave the force rather than be armed. They probably know better than Nick Griffin.

It's hardly the same but I've been threatened with all kinds of weapons in the course of my job - shot at on one memorable occasion - and in my experience it's a lot easier to talk your way out of a sticky spot when everyone involved knows you're armed only with a Biro.

It seems obvious that a copper with a gun talking to someone mad or bad who also has a gun is probably going to involve guns at some point.

And would it have helped PC Bone or her colleague PC Nicola Hughes if they'd been armed? They were responding to a routine call about a burglary, which now seems to have been a hoax. They knocked on the door and someone opened fire, then hurled a grenade at them for good measure.

If they had been armed, they would not have time to unholster a weapon before they were killed. Had one of them by some fluke managed to shoot their assailant after they were injured, he would never be brought to justice, and every other criminal in Manchester would have decided they needed a gun of their own next time the cops come knocking.

We don't know if the officers were wearing body armour or where the bullets landed. We don't know whether it was a licenced gun or where on Earth the killer got a hand grenade from.

We do know the main suspect - who has yet to be charged - was wanted for two other gun and grenade murders. We do know he was known by locals and journalists to be living in the area where the officers were sent, and that the police were spending £150,000 a day trying to find him. And we do know he'd been questioned over the previous murders and then released on police bail.

The only thing that would have saved Fiona and Nicola is if the person responsible were not on the streets, or they had known that the door they were knocking on could well have had him standing behind it.

And as shocking as their deaths are, they bring to just six the number of police officers shot dead in the line of duty since 2000. Of the 22 officers killed at work in that time, twice as many have been run over or in car accidents while trying to arrest someone.

And in America where all cops have guns, 40 were shot dead in 2011 alone. Even taking into account their much greater population and the fact we had, very unusually, three gun deaths in the past year they have nearly three times as many officers gunned down as we do.

In 2007 the UK had nearly 7,000 authorised firearms officers who were deployed to use their weapons in 21,000 incidents. They needed to use them on just seven occasions - that's 0.03 per cent of the time. If that is the rate at which officers think they need to shoot someone why should we make them do it more often?

Armed police make mistakes which cannot be fixed. They have shot dead people armed with ball-bearing guns, air pistols and table legs, innocent Brazilians running for the train and the mentally unwell. Do we want more?

It is very easy for the knee to jerk, and easier to still to argue that crack dealers, gangsters and people who walk around with grenades are fair game whose deaths at the hands of a righteous copper would improve the world a little.

No doubt they would. But the manner of their death should not be at the hands of the state or its agents, otherwise we are asking all our police officers to be no better than hangmen.

They don't want to do that, and we don't want Judge Dredd convicting and executing people on the spot.

Those two policewomen didn't die because they were unarmed. They died, in all likelihood, because of a series of mistakes - about the likely danger they were walking into, about the failure to find the man now suspected of their killings, about not nicking the person who sells grenades.

The most important thing is not to make any more by making them all carry guns - against their will, against all common sense, and in the futile hope it would save more lives than it costs.

He is not the law.


Karl Meyer said...

Extreme cases make for bad laws. This country has an incredibly low rate of murders using guns for which we must be thankful.

I was at the Olympic Park with 100,000s of people and the only time I felt nervous was when two armed police officers walked past me.

Anonymous said...

On the button as ever.
The solution is not to arm all our police. The solution is to fund the police service properly by not pretending that cutting the "back office" you magically make the front line safer.

pirate said...

You are forgetting the recent incident in New York where police did shot the gun men and 9 other by-standers.

This is pirates maxim "The chances of an innocent member of the public being shot are directly proportional to the number of guns in circulation, regardless of who has them".

Alex Greene said...

You're right about the Stallone pic, of course. Now if that had been a pic of Karl Urban ...

Good points about the law, well made. You've been basically saying what I've been saying for years. We are unarmed because we are civilised - because the very idea of civilisation is incompatible with the kind of population that feels that is has to go about tooled-up all the time.

Thank you.

Bercher said...

A very good article, the police could get better support from the public, I don't think rioting is the answer when possible mistakes are made. Maybe guns with cameras would help on police visits. High sentences for anyone restricting the law might help. It's a catch twenty two situation, that said I think the advantage should be with the law on arrest and enquiry. Back up is essential. You wouldn't see soldiers knocking on doors of the enemy with nothing to protect them.

Soap said...

Even if Rathband had been armed it wouldn't have helped him. He was parked on a bridge over a motorway and Moat walked up and shot him through the window, he physically wouldn't have been able to get his gun out if he had had one because he was sitting down!

I know people will say it's a 'deterrent' but to people like Moat and the guy in Manchester it isn't, they'd do this sort of thing even if all the police were walking round with Assault Rifles and LMGs.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, the murder of these female police officers is awful and should not have happened.

But there does seem to be some hypocrisy in the police outrage and its call for the re-instatement of the death penalty for cop-killers.

The cops are usually presented as heroes and heroines serving the public. This is a perception that the Hillsborough debacle challenges.

I doubt whether Hillsborough is an isolated case of self-serving cops. It is not the first time the cops have attempted to smear the victims of those who they have unlawfully killed or maimed. Ian Blair, head of the Met, attempted to smear the Brazilian killed by his force as an illegal immigrant. Boris was right to "let him (Blair) go".

I suspect it is common practice for the rozzers to behave this way to cover up their mistakes. And a supine Establishment and Press assists them in this task.

Scroties said...

Are the police accused of unlawful killing with regards Hillsborough?

Anonymous said...


Whatever culpability the police may have for the Hillsborough episode has so far been avoided because of their smear tactics and cover-up.

My comment sought to contrast the outrage noisily proclaimed by the cops in response to cop killings against their silence with respect to the facts of the Hillsborough dead. I am not alleging the police deliberately killed the victims. I am merely saying that the fairy story narrative put about of good cops versus evil villains is an over-simplification of the actuality.

pirate said...

I did a similar thing on Twitter and got a lot of flack of cops. They have already started using it as a political tool against the police cuts and as usual anyone who disagrees with them is a crook....

Picky said...

Nice to see a journo presenting a balanced piece without filling in the gaps with mindless speculation and conjecture. All I saw yesterday on the news as these dreddful (forgive me) events unfolded were presenters and "pundits" speculating that the two unarmed officers were sent to arrest a known firearms murder suspect! I've rarely heard such stupidity being broadcast (even on Sky News).

I disagree with the routine arming of all UK police officers for many of the same reasons you make in this piece. Those 2 Bobbies couldn't have possibly known what was waiting for them at that "routine call" they went to, it was a burglary incident as I understand. I do however disagree with you that they died because of a "series of mistakes", they died because that man decided to kill them, it really is as simple as that.

Anonymous said...

Usually the BBC News facebook feed gets some of the most reactionary, Mail-esque comments imaginable (as well as the odd conspiracy nut and "this isn't news" groaner), but on this subject even they have been united in saying they don't want our police routinely armed.

I think the people calling for it are in the minority, thankfully.

mrtotes said...

It's quite clear that the police must be armed with grenades following this incident...and the public too...if more members of the public carried their own grenades we might have been able to stop this tragedy...¡

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that although I agree with the article 100%, Jean Charles de Menezes wasn't running for the tube. He calmly walked through the barriers, grabbed a Metro and sat down.

He was shot while he was sat on the tube and to cover up the mistake the other members of whatever team of coppers screwed up that day also shot him, hence making it impossible to discover which officer shot him first. ALL 7 of those coppers should be in jail, not only for manslauter but also perverting the course of justice, but as always with these things, the officers of CO19 threatened to down their weapons if any of their number were taken to task for murdering an innocent man.

It seems that although the police aren't allowed to go on strike, CO19 can still do so.

Anonymous said...

The body armour these two officers would have been wearing would probably have been a stab vest,which wouldn't stop a small arms round let alone grenade shrapnel.

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