On this day after the memorial service for PC David Rathband, I am reminded of that day in 1966 when a shocked nation woke to the news that three police officers, walking towards an old van parked in Wormwood Scrubs without a vehicle licence had been brutally cut down in a hail of bullets.
The shock was not just that three men had been murdered without a word exchanged, though that was still rare enough in 1966, but that they had been murdered solely because of the colour of their working clothes.
Today we reserve that sort of disgust for someone murdered for the colour of their skin â working clothes are considered a matter of choice, and those who wear the blue police uniform are somehow complicit in their own untimely end by choosing to be police officers.
Raoul Moat shot David Rathband for no other reason than that he was wearing a police uniform, and thus, in the twisted logic of the sub-culture he belonged to, deserved to be shot. Nay, Moat was lauded and continues to be lauded in some circles, for his actions.
Since 1966, 4,000 men and women have been shot, stabbed, or bludgeoned to death, because they wore the working clothes of a group seen as inimical to a certain way of life.
PC Rathband was more than just one of those statistics. He was a husband, a father, a son, a brother; an ordinary âworking Joeâ from a council estate who thought being a traffic policeman was a secure job, a means of paying a mortgage, providing for his wife and children, building up a pension. All the things that those who profess to âhateâ coppersâ would not deign to do for themselves. A traffic cop. The butt of a million police canteen jokes. A noddy car driver. Even the police donât exactly respect traffic cops. Not glamorous, wonât lead to promotion, you donât normally make the national news. Just a humdrum, go to work every day, fall asleep in an armchair at the end of the day sort of job. Your responsibility to sort out the traffic chaos when some idiot drives down the motorway in the wrong direction â with a thousand complaints if you donât get the Stella tanker driver on his way fast enough to stock the bars for Saturday night. You do get working clothes, and a car with fancy go faster stripes on the side. That is good enough reason to try to murder you.
I defy anyone to listen to Victoria Derbyshireâs sensitive interview with his twin brother Darren and not be moved to tears. David, he said, had trained as a plumber with his father originally; âalways finish the jobâ he had been taught. Quite so, you donât go home because it is six oâ clock and leave the housewife with no water or heating. He had carried that work ethic into the police with him, and eâen though his mind was filled with resolve to kill himself, his last request to his brother was that he âclock him off at the police stationâ, he couldnât bear to think that he had left his duty unfinished.
Yesterday, Davidâs hearse stopped briefly at the police station so that Darren could do that one last thing for him â and clock him off.
Across the river, a brief few miles away, the great, the good and the mediocre of the Liberal-Democrats were gathering to pontificate on their collective views on the future of policing amongst other items. How best to interfere with our great institutions.
4,000 policemen and women murdered. In some cases they had been in the vicinity of their murderer simply because they had been called to help him or her. Not to harm them, nor to hinder them, but to help them.
As a group, they are collectively vilified; the âall coppers are bastardsâ mantra. I can almost guarantee the appearance of a comment that mentions Jean Charles de Menezes. Indeed, individually they are capable of massive mistakes, gross under judgements, corruption even â but that is individually. It is collectively that they are judged.
Yet, as a society, we are obsessed with âindividual rightsâ; the belief that none of us should be judged by the colour of our skin, or our gender, or our sexual proclivity. None are more frenzied in their belief that all are equal than the liberal-democrats. Did any of them take a moment out to speak of the great credit the majority of our police are? Did any of them wonder who was standing out on the hotel roof in the wind and the rain, ensuring that no one attacked them for their collective beliefs? Not a murmur.
There could scarcely have been a more appropriate day for a leading political figure to speak out against this culture of vilification of the police. They didnât all shoot Jean Charles de Menezes. Some of them were just making sure that protesters arrived safely at their destination, or helping the harried Motherâs of schizophrenics persuade their sons that it might be a good time if they went back to the clinic and caught up with their medication again. Some of them got stabbed for their trouble.
Like WPC Mackay. Magdi Elgizouli stabbed her to death when she was called to assist in his arrest. Just a young girl, doing her job.
Elgizouli has just been released back into society. The psychiatrists in charge of his treatment have deemed him ânot a danger to societyâ. but Elgizouli is a very real and credible threat to any policemen. He has been diagnosed as having a âpathological hatred of the policeâ. Can you imagine the outcry if his pathological hatred was of gays, or women? Is that the final recognition that policemen are no longer considered part of âsocietyâ?
He is to be re-housed, at our expense naturally, in an area where he is not likely to be offended by the sight of a policemen, for fear that it could âaffect his mental healthâ. When he was released on day release four years ago, police officers were warned to âstay away from himâ. It is apparently his individual right not to have his mental health scarred by the appearance of stray uniformed police officers defending our collective freedom.
Elgizouli is a criminal. He is a habitual cannabis user. How long before he preys on his new neighbours to fund his habit? How long before an innocent traffic cop is diverted to his neighbours house to attend a âpossible break-inâ and is stabbed to death by a man with a âpathological hatred of the policeâ.
Nowhere near as long, sadly, as we will have to wait for any of our politicians to speak up and defend the police as being comprised mainly of decent, ordinary âJoeâsâ just doing a job. Itâs just not fashionable.