But death cannot kill their names

Floral tributes at the scene where police constables Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23, were killed in Hattersley, Greater Manchester.
Floral tributes at the scene where police constables Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23, were killed in Hattersley, Greater Manchester.
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For justice and law good men must die.

The words are on the headstone at Layton Cemetery of Superintendent Gerald Richardson who remains the highest ranking police officer to die in the line of duty.

He was shot at point blank range on 
August 23, 1971, while trying to foil a gem heist in the heart of Blackpool.

“Don’t be silly, son,” he told robber Joseph Sewell who later confessed: “He was too brave.”

Must more good men – and women – die for justice today?

Is it enough, as the words carved in stone continue, that ‘death cannot kill their names’?

The words resonate in a week which has seen two young women police constables killed in a gun and grenade attack.

They responded to a report of an attempted break-in. Nothing to suggest they would need arming with anything other than their training, experience, the street sense that comes from doing the job, in order to return to the station unharmed.

They never came back. A few hours after PC Fiona Bone, 32, discussed her wedding plans with colleagues she was dead on the scene. PC Nicola Hughes. 23, died shortly after.

It happened barely an hour’s drive from here. Manchester is Lancashire’s 
neighbouring police force. Today the union flag is at half mast over county headquarters. Manchester was once part of our county palatine. Their loss is our loss. Ask any police officer, serving or retired. Or their families.

The Fylde’s divisional commander Chief Supt Richard Debicki admits: “This has come as a great shock to the police service, and this tragedy is very painful for the wider policing family.

“Lancashire colleagues have been extremely touched by the sad news. These officers paid the ultimate price in doing their job in keeping the public safe from harm, and this acts as a reminder to us all that officers put themselves in harm’s way every day in order to protect people.

“Understandably people ask the inevitable question about whether officers should be routinely armed. This country supports the principle of an unarmed police service and Lancashire is no exception, despite the horrific circumstances that have happened in Manchester. We do, however, have armed specialists if we need them and they are deployed where intelligence tells us they need to be.”

Chief Supt Debicki was three weeks old when police Chief Richardson died. “He remains an example to us all. A hero.”

Twenty-four hours after the tragedy in Greater Manchester 34,000 had signed Lancashire Police Federation’s book of condolence on Facebook.

Others called for a restoration of the death penalty – and for routine arming of officers. Police federation chairman Rachel Baines urges the public not to be 
“sidetracked” by the issue of arming police officers.

“It’s a red herring. Police do not want to be routinely armed. We should focus on what happens to people who commit crimes like this. Life should mean life. And if you take the life of a police officer you should face the death penalty.

“This has been a huge shock. But every job has the potential to end in tragedy. Cutbacks mean the thin blue line is 
getting thinner. We have lost 550 officers to cutbacks in the last two years. Forces also face the risk of privatisation.”

Mick Gradwell, a former Blackpool detective superintendent, now an 
independent consultant, agrees: “I want more severe sentencing at an earlier stage. Harsher sentences act like a real deterrent. If police were armed the public perception of policing would never be the same again.”

Dr Stuart Kirby, lecturer in criminology at Lancaster University, a former detective superintendent with Lancashire Constabulary, admits: “When I heard the news I immediately went back to the early 80s when I was a police officer in 
Blackpool and three officers drowned going to somebody’s assistance in the sea. The shock and disbelief stayed in the division over all the years that I was a member of it.

“What happened in Manchester will leave a massive sense of loss and that will go on for some time.

“Most police work is routine. But within any shift there will be moments of danger and it will often come from the most unexpected periods.

“But before we routinely arm 139,000 officers we must ask whether it will make a difference, save lives, or risk further deaths by offenders who take their 
weapons, accidents and innocent people being shot and finally undermine the relationship with the public.”

In Blackpool, the Blue Light fund raising campaign, founded by Dana Gledhill, of the Crown Prosecution Service, aims to provide a memorial to all of the Fylde’s emergency staff who have fallen in the line of duty.