Former home secretary and Norwich South MP Charles Clarke among those to have say on whether police should be armed in wake of deaths of two unarmed police officers in Manchester
PUBLISHED: 06:41 20 September 2012
Tuesday, September 18 has been described as "one of the darkest days in the history of the Greater Manchester Police if not the police service overall" after two women constables were killed in an act of "cold-blooded murder".
PC Nicola Hughes, 23, and PC Fiona Bone, 32, went to a house in Mottram, Tameside, after someone alleged a burglary had taken place. But they were attacked with a gun and a grenade.
Tributes to the two officers have flooded in to Greater Manchester Police with Norfolk Constabulary lowering the police flag to half mast at its Wymondham headquarters.
Dale Cregan, 29, surrended to officers a few miles from where the double killing took place, a killing which has brought the issue of the arming of our police officers back into the spotlight.
Ash Rathband, whose father David was shot and blinded by Newcastle gunman Raoul Moat, tweeted after the incident: “It’s time for police to be armed in my opinion. Yet again another awful incident.”
But the issue over whether or not to arm police officers is a contentious one which has brought a rather more cautious approach closer to home.
Stephen Bett, chairman of the Norfolk Police Authority, which is to hold a minute’s silence in memory of the fallen officers ahead of today’s meeting at Wymondham, said he did not think all officers should be armed. He said: “Firstly, I don’t think the police want to go down that road and I agree with them.
“If you do arm everyone there’s a rigorous training programme which you would have to go through and it would be far too complex to do it to get people up to a required standard.
“Police in this country are renowned as being the best in the world. If you armed them they would become a para-military group and the public wouldn’t be quite so keen to engage with them. I think we need specialist units and better equipment for them, but not to arm every police officer.”
Mr Bett said he did not think the lives of PC Hughes or PC Bone would have been saved, even if they had been armed.
He added: “I have to say, that even if the police were armed, and they went there thinking it was going to be a normal burglary, I don’t think that the outcome would have been any different. They were just gunned down mercilessly.”
Dave Benfield, general secretary of the Norfolk Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said it was too early to comment on whether officers should be armed.
Mr Benfield, who admitted it was a “dark, dark time” for the police force and revealed members in Norfolk had been shocked and affected by the tragic events, said: “It’s a highly emotive subject at the best of times and at the moment that’s perhaps highlighted even more. I’m not going to comment on whether or not I think police should be armed.
“What I would say is around the world there are police forces in different countries whose officers are armed as a matter of routine and that still doesn’t stop tragic incidents like what happened on Tuesday.”
He added: “In the weeks to come the whole issue needs to be reconsidered, but it would need to be properly considered without the emotions of the events of Tuesday.”
Charles Clarke, former home secretary and Norwich South MP, does not believe police should be armed. He said: “No I don’t think police officers should be armed and I think the views of the police themselves should be listened to in this respect.”
Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has ruled out arming officers. Sir Hugh said: “Guns don’t necessarily solve the problem. You only have to look to the American experience.
He added: “Many colleagues in America are lost without even drawing their gun at close ranges. I can’t describe this particular case in detail but the reality is, the clear view of the British police service from top to bottom is we don’t want to be armed. One of the learning points in Northern Ireland – I had an armed service – was it distances us from communities. They don’t like approaching officers with guns.”
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