Today sees the release of Harry Roberts from prison after serving 45 years for the murders of three police officers - PC Geoffrey Fox, 41; Det Con David Wombwell, 25; and Det Sgt Christopher Head, 30. At the time of his sentencing the judge couldn't envisage him ever being released, and pretty much everyone in the country agreed. Killing police officers in the line of duty was up there with treason as part of that collection of offences deemed so serious that, in the absence of the death penalty, at the very least life should mean life. If murdering those that serve to protect the public can't be wholeheartedly supported by the laws of the land, what can?
Earlier this year the home secretary made an announcement that killing an officer on duty should mean a life (whole life) sentence. But, in the same year, Roberts' Parole Board approved his release. Having exceeded his minimum term of 30 years imprisonment, Roberts is one of the UK's longest-serving prisoners, having been in custody since 15 November 1966. So what has happened in the same year for these 2 events to occur? Which has led to the release of Harry Roberts, and in general the gradual decline in Government and Judicial support for the police.
Well the world is obviously a very different place, when Harry Roberts was convicted in 1966 the idea of the public let alone the judicial system questioning the word or motive of a police officer was unheard of and police service was revered and respected.
In many ways the police service has been its own worst enemy by cultivating its aura of invincibility and secrecy, at times being above the law itself. Over the years that armour has been chipped away by scandal and controversy which instead of resulting in a new era of openness and transparency has been further marred by cover-up, even more secrecy and arrogance that the senior management know best. The Government have launched enquiry after enquiry, and introduced new laws such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to regulate police actions.
What seems to have been lost over the years is a clear understanding of what it means to be a police officer and their relationship with the public. When I joined, whatever the faults of the service - and believe me there were many - there was immense pride in being a police officer and the overwhelming majority of all the officers I served with, would always go the extra mile to look after and protect the public. In fact I've known 3 who lost their lives on duty protecting the public, and many others who've received serious injuries, plus seen many brave and heroic acts which have gone uncelebrated - in fact shrugged off as just 'part of the job'.
The world is a very different place now, the policing model of 20 years ago just doesn't hack it any more, new crimes such as cyber-crime taking over from street robbery, have changed forever the way we are policed. However, I suspect that almost every person in the country is more reassured by the presence of a uniformed police officer patrolling their local streets than any amount of Government initiatives, but can we afford that luxury any more, and are we prepared to support and treat those officers with the respect and most importantly, the full force of the law if they are killed or injured in the course of their duties.
It's easy to be cynical, knocking the police has become an everyday occurrence, particularly from a Government endeavouring to make huge financial savings (they could just get rid of the 42 different forces HR depts etc - but don't get me started on that), but ultimately, many of the women and men that make up UK policing are just trying to serve the public. Yes, it's been shown that they are fallible and sometimes corrupt, but the majority are trying to do an incredibly hard job, mostly without thanks and they need to know that if they are asked to put themselves in harm's way to protect the public, as indeed they are expected to do, they will be looked after and supported, and the law will treat them with the respect they deserve. No one could, or should expect less.
Every day our mainly unarmed officers put themselves at risk on our behalf, just as they did in 1966 - the risks are probably even higher - the very least we can do in return is show that life will always mean life for appalling crimes like this.