The shocking gun and grenade attack which cost the lives of two unarmed police officers in Greater Manchester has not only left a nation in mourning, but it has reignited the debate over whether all police should be armed as Crime Correspondent PETER WALSH reports.

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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 female constables were killed in an act of “cold-blooded murder”.

PC Nicola Hughes, 23, and PC Fiona Bone, 32, had been investigating a burglary in Mottram, Tameside, and went to an address after someone alleged a burglary had taken place but were attacked with a gun and a grenade.

Tributes to the two officers have flooded in to Greater Manchester Police with Norfolk Constabulary, part of a nationwide policing family in mourning today, 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. It is 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 it is a highly emotive issue which has struck a more cautionary chord 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 over the world as being the best in the world and if you armed people you would become a para-military group and the public wouldn’t be quite so keen to engage with the police as they would look more sinister.

“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 lived of PC Hughes or PC Bone would have been saved, even if they had been armed.

He added: “I have to say, even if the police were armed, and they went there thinking it was going to be a normal burglary that the outcome would’ve been any different. I don’t think it would’ve been. They were just gunned down mercilessley.”

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 routinely armed.

Mr Benfield, who admitted it was a “dark, dark time” for the police force in general and particularly in Manchester 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 whether police should be armed.

“What I would say though is around the world there are police forces in different countries whose officers are armed as a matter of routine and that still doesn’s stop tragic incidents like what happened on Tuesday.”

He added: “I think it’s too early and too emotive an occasion to be making a comment on whether police should be routinely armed. What needs to be looked at in the weeks to come is 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, was not of the view that 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 after the killing of two women constables.

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.”

What do you think? Write to The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

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