Amidst Post Tragedy Criticism Of Open Gates And Daffodils: “All We Are Saying Is Give Police A Chance.”
Less than a week after tragic events on Westminster Bridge and within the Palace of Westminster the story of a police officer mildly rebuking the parents of a child illegally picking daffodils somehow made headlines in our national media. Just the other day, footage of anti-terror police wrestling a suspect to the ground whilst shouting at him was described as ‘shocking’ by the Birmingham Mail a quote repeated by the Daily Mirror who also ran the story.
True, in the aftermath of the brutal murders that saw headlines around the world, sympathy was clearly evident both in Parliament and the media with tributes being rightly paid to a brave, hugely professional police officer who had also served his country in the military.
Yet how quickly the atmosphere started to sour as the media then quickly began the blame game and in the crosshairs, yet again, were the perennial whipping boys of many within the media namely the police
The “Amazing” Times Exclusive.
The ‘exclusive’ that caused considerable anger amongst the police community emerged some two days after the event when The Times triumphantly proclaimed a headline story with a video exposing a ‘security breach’ in the aftermath of the fatal stabbing. The video shot by the Times journalist Sam Coates, clearly from within the safety of an upper floor in the parliament buildings, showed gates by which Masood entered the grounds of Parliament being left open by the police in the immediate aftermath of the shooting
Fellow Times journalist Matt Chorley, exultantly tweeted ‘amazing footage’ yet what did it show in reality?
Imagine being on duty in the vicinity of the incident on what appeared to be a routine day. Suddenly you are hearing shouting, seeing panic stricken crowds and hearing shots before being confronted with two persons lying on the ground some distance apart. The scene may well have been complicated by the fact that the shots that killed Masood were fired by Michael Fallon’s protection officers who were in plain clothes.
Even the best trained SAS soldier could have been forgiven for struggling to process the scene that turned a normal routine day into a vision from hell. Those first on the post-incident scene would have been primarily concerned with the welfare of their colleague lying prostrate and bleeding on the ground. Confusion may also have been likely as to the identity of the second man lying on the floor and, even when it was established he was the terrorist responsible, police protocol is to attempt to save his life. A Sky news piece featuring boxer Frazier Clarke and some brief footage filmed by him illustrates the chaos on the day.
Amidst all this total confusion the gates remained open for about 60 seconds after officers reached both police officer and terrorist lying on the ground.
The footage will be of use in subsequent debriefs and reviews, yet why was it necessary for The Times to use the footage as a cheap tool to humiliate grieving police officers and an embattled police force? Could it not have been quietly handed over and perhaps used by the paper when the dust clouds settled, in a calm, reflective review?
Perhaps the bitter pill would have been sweetened had Mr. Coates had been able to make a well-publicised positive comment in respect of policing on the day. Instead this ‘exclusive’ compounded the grossly insensitive Times front page the day after the murders. Social media subsequently resounded with serving and retired officers stating they intended to cancel their subscriptions.
Where were the armed officers?
Yet it wasn’t just this incident that involved mud being thrown at police. Where were the armed officers was the cry?
It later transpired that which many of us knew anyway; namely that MP’s and those in the Lords were ‘uncomfortable’ with the presence of armed police in and around Parliament and the ‘hostile’ nature of some of the physical defences. In fairness to the press, this did form the basis of some newspaper pieces.
Yet for all the words of genuine sympathy emanating from shocked members of both houses together with praise for police action as lockdown commenced, police know only too well that they have few friends amongst parliamentarians and the establishment. The actions of MP Tobias Ellwood and the speech by James Cleverley won’t be forgotten. However, one of the few MP’s held in esteem by the police community is Holly Lynch who is campaigning for improved safety for officers.
Conservative MP’s have largely stood supinely by as their former Home Secretary Theresa May imposed damaging cuts on police which has resulted in 21,000 fewer officers thus impacting upon operations against terrorism. These, together with changes to pay and conditions, have also severely damaged morale.
Many on the Labour side, especially those close to Jeremy Corbyn, have long been critical of police and are perceived to be uncomfortably close to activists who don’t confine themselves merely to verbal attacks on police.
The green empty rows of House of Commons seating during the House of Commons debate called by Holly Lynch on police officer safety perhaps illustrated better than anything else the attitude of many MP’s towards police.
Police and public including faith groups walk across Westminster Bridge in a tribute to victims of the tragedy.
Theresa May’s Extraction
Another brick bat thrown in the direction of police concerned the ‘extraction’ of Prime Minister Theresa May as her protection officers became aware of the potential danger.
Such delay as there was amounted to a few seconds and criticisms were dismissed by those qualified to comment.
Criticism then of the Prime Minister’s protection detail but little praise for those of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, one of whom coolly dispatched the attacker.
More criticism, especially on social media, concerned acting Commissioner Craig Mackey who, immediately after witnessing the incident was whisked away by his protection team.
Craig Mackey could have achieved little by remaining at the scene and ‘taking charge.’ No-one knew whether this atrocity heralded multi-venue attacks in other parts of London and had this been the case the most senior officer in the Met clearly needed to be at the centre of the operational wheel making crucial decisions.
Front line police are, of course, used to media criticism. Arguably looking ridiculous now are headlines commenting on armed police ‘scaring the public’ by virtue of being seen with holstered firearms in Tesco’s, or smiling in Newcastle while comments by newspaper columnists such as Peter Hitchens include sneering references to armed officers including the term ‘Robocop’s.’
Sympathy towards police by some crime’journo’s is swamped by a press that trawls frantically around for any police transgression regardless of how trivial whilst ignoring acts of bravery, compassion and kindness……. unless it involves a human tragedy.
Of course there are lessons to be learnt from this terrorist atrocity as there are from each and every terror attack in the UK and elsewhere. Perhaps those in Parliament will now show a greater appreciation of their protectors and not just in respect of the estate that is parliament. Perhaps also they will let the police get on with the job of protecting them in the way determined by police and competent security experts.
Rank and file police can take heart however at the overwhelming wave of public affection across the country following the tragic death of PC Keith Palmer. He, by any standards, was an exceptional police officer and human being exemplifying the qualities possessed by the overwhelming majority of his colleagues across the UK.