Breaking Manchester

Four years on from the Manchester arena bombing. An unimaginably dark day in our history

Today like everyday, we remember the loved and lost.
I’d like to repost some words from a colleague and friend John Sutherland, who captured in words the aftermath in a way I never could….
I am a police officer, and this is what I want you to know about the Manchester attacks.
On a Monday night in Manchester, the unthinkable happened. A scene of horrifying, terrifying carnage, beyond the imagining of all except those who were there. Among the dead were children. They might have been my own.
And into the midst of it all ran police officers – alongside their colleagues from the other emergency services. Without hesitation. Without a second thought. That precious, old fashioned thing called duty: that willingness to risk it all on behalf of complete strangers.
It seems to me that we, as a society, owe them a remarkable debt. Pause for a moment to think about what we ask of the men and women in blue – what we expect of them. Amongst the humdrum and the routine, we expect them to go where most wouldn’t and to do what most couldn’t:
Into the hurting places
Into the dangerous places
Into the violent places
Into the broken places
Into the terrifying places
Into the confusing places, where nothing is quite as it seems. Into the distressing places
Into the thin spaces between life and death.
And we expect them to deal with what they find there.
Alongside a debt of gratitude, we also owe them a far greater level of understanding about the impact that working life can have on them – about the scars that they carry, both seen and unseen. There’s no other job that comes close to this one in terms of the simple wear and tear that officers and staff are subject to over the course of a policing life:
The inevitable realities of shift working
Extended hours worked over prolonged periods of time Endless trauma
Extraordinary complexity
Relentless demand
And it would be strange if police officers didn’t absorb a little of the pain – a little of the strain – somewhere along the way.
Over time, it takes its toll. Beyond the general wear and tear, every police officer will be able to tell you about the individual faces and places that leave a deeper mark than any other:
The blood soaked murder scenes
The fatal crashes
The cot deaths
The armed and violent men
The troubled, haunted children
The sobbing mothers
The unavoidable horror of it all.
As a society, I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the compound impact on police officers and their colleagues of the repeated exposure to extreme trauma.
Whilst remembering all that has gone before, there are also the unavoidable demands of today:
Punishing workloads
Relentless deadlines
Covering for colleagues who are struggling
The complex consequences of austerity
The hostile commentary about policing offered by anyone with an armchair and an opinion
And that tension that exists for all of us between work and life.
I’m not just a police officer. I’m a husband and I’m a dad.
It can’t all be just about the job. Everyone has their own life story too.
And, amongst all that is wonderful, there are:
The demands of life,
The challenges of life,
The sorrows of life,
The flat out pace of life,
And the natural, normal, human thing is to feel, to grieve, to hurt sometimes. That last observation is true of all of us of course. But not all of us are police officers. Not all of us have been in the places they’ve been. Not all of us have seen the things that they’ve seen. Not all of us have confronted, time and again, the very worst that human beings are capable of.
Where police officers suffer – physically, emotionally, psychologically, in any kind of way – as a consequence of their service, the rest of us have an absolute responsibility to look after them. A duty, even.
Because they are the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets – and, every now and then, they might just need a helping hand.
John Sutherland – Ex Met Police Commander