Four years ago almost to the day my cousin and I were walking through Victoria station and witnessed an assault. It was a Friday night, and we were taken to Charing Cross police station to give statements.
It was late, and rather than us spend ages trying to get there ourselves , a lone police officer who had the only available car offered to drop us there as he was headed there anyway. We gratefully accepted.
It wasn’t until we got around the corner from Victoria station we realised quite how unique this experience would be. The car was red. He was an armed diplomatic protection officer.
We got in and asked him everything, from what all of the buttons on his dashboard do, to what weapons he has, to what his day to day job entailed. He told us he escorted the prime minister and foreign dignitaries, but also pitched in with patrols around stations and routine traffic stops.
We also asked him, was he always armed? Yes. Has he ever shot anyone? No, he hadn’t needed to, and in fact none of the other armed police officers he knew closely had ever shot anyone either. They train for every eventuality, but really lethal force is the last resort. They don’t want to use it. They don’t want to kill. He told us that whenever he is radioed his heart is in his mouth and he thinks about his family. Will he see them again? Is the danger so severe that he has to be willing to lay down his life so the swarms of people around him won’t also be hurt?
It isn’t until now I realise how poignant that is. We have several hard working, well trained, police officers who instead of having dinner with their family or tucking their children into bed are making sure we don’t repeat 7/7, we don’t have a ‘lone wolf’ attack like today and that when something unexpected happens, it is nipped in the bud swiftly and with minimal damage to life.
We often think of policing as being harsh, and yes, counter-terror measures can err on the side of ‘morally right’ with control orders, lengthy imprisonment pending trial, and the now-scrapped Section 44 powers, but today’s carnage could have been so much worse were it not for an immediate emergency service response.
Scenes of the attacker, shot, being attended to by the very same officers who may have shot him, showing human compassion in the face of true evil. These guys are also trained to a high degree in emergency first aid to preserve life as though it were any other injured person they would encounter, and provide a high degree of care until doctors arrive.
We are so lucky to have dedicated emergency services, working around the clock to ensure our safety, and although the ‘thin blue line’ got thinner today, it will never be broken, and we will always be protected by some amazing people. Our police, fire, and ambulance service today have been exceptional, and I shall be thinking of them still hard at work whilst I sleep.