Yesterday’s National Police Memorial Day (NPMD) was particularly poignant after the killing of Metropolitan Police Sergeant Matt Ratana two days earlier.
HRH The Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Home Secretary Priti Patel all paid tribute to 54-year-old PS Ratana in messages for the virtual service which had been due to take place at Lincoln Cathedral but had to be re-arranged due to the coronavirus restrictions.
The families and colleagues of fallen officers were instead encouraged to join the service from their homes and share images of a virtual candle. They were also able to write messages and share memories or thoughts on a Tribute Wall to remember and celebrate the lives of their lost loved ones.
Prince Charles, patron of the NPMD, opened the ceremony and said: “We can’t meet as usual but we can all take a moment to honour those who have paid the ultimate price and who have given their lives in the service of others.”
He paid special tribute to the seven officers who have lost their lives since the last NPMD and spoke of Friday’s incident in Croydon which resulted in the death of another officer.
“What happened on Friday is the latest heart-breaking evidence of the risks faced by our officers daily. These are losses we can never replace, sacrifices we can never repay but of which, as a society, we can only strive to be worthy. We owe our police service and its remarkable officers the most profound debt of gratitude for their continued selfless commitment and dedication,” he added.
The Home Secretary expressed her gratitude to police officers and staff for their “selfless work”, adding that the courageous officers who made the ultimate sacrifice would “never be forgotten”. She gave a reading from The Beatitudes.
In his message, the Prime Minister said: “The terrible killing of an officer in Croydon on Friday is a reminder of the risks police officers face every day. They show extraordinary courage by going towards danger rather than away from it to protect the public. The officers we remember today laid down their lives to prevent us from coming to harm and for that we owe them a huge debt.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, gave a blessing and the British Police Symphony Orchestra played a moving rendition of ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’ as speakers from the four corners of the UK spoke about what NPMD means to them.
Louie Johnston, son of Reserve Constable David Johnston of the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross, who died in 1997, aged 30, said NPMD is an occasion to “look past the uniform and to celebrate the character, the memories and the special place that our loved ones will always have in our hearts”.
Jayne and Lowri Davies, the widow and daughter of PC Terry Davies of Gwent Police, who died in 1990, aged 34, recalled attending the inaugural NPMD, not knowing what to expect but found it was source of comfort. Lowri is now a serving officer with Gwent Police and wears her father’s collar number.
Rumbie Mabuto, the widow of DC Joe Mabuto of Thames Valley Police, who died in 2016, aged 42, said the event is something her family looks forward to each year, adding: “We’re grateful for the support we receive and hope everybody will be able to meet again next year.”
And Donna Alcock, widow of PC John Alcock of Grampian Police, who was injured in 2003 and died in 2017, aged 54, said: “When they say police are a family there is no truer statement.”
The service also included a recorded message from Samantha Dixon whose husband, PC James Dixon of Thames Valley Police, died in a road traffic accident on duty three years ago. She was pregnant with their son at the time.
“The Police Memorial day is somewhere I can take our son, who sadly never got to meet his father, and he can be remembered in a proud way rather than with the sadness that is normally attached to it,” she said.
Candles were lit to represent the four nations of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to symbolise the flame of devotion and commitment exemplified by those honoured by the service.
England was represented by Lissie Harper, widow of PC Andrew Harper of Thames Valley Police, who died on 15 August 2019, aged 28. Lighting a candle for Wales wasRebecca Davies, daughter of PC Terry Davies of Gwent Police, who died on 23August 1990 aged 34, and for Northern Ireland, Louie Johnston. Scotland’s candle was lit by its Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone QPM.
Chair of Dyfed Powys Police Federation Gareth Jones said: “I’m pleased we were still able to pay tribute to fallen colleagues this year, particularly after Friday’s shocking events. We just had to make NPMD different but perhaps it was fitting that the commemoration took place at home because that’s where officers are missed and loved the most.
“The loss of a police officer is a loss to their family, the police family and the nation.”
John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, added: “National Police Memorial Day ensures that police officers who gave their all are never forgotten. We must always remember them - their commitment and ultimate sacrifice to public service. Every day, police officers selflessly put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others – I thank them, and I am proud to represent them.”
One of the last images of the service was a reminder of the Book of Remembrance which pays tribute to the almost 5,000 British police officers who have been killed or died on duty or as a result of duty since the first recorded death on duty of an officer in 1680. Sgt Ratana is the eighth police officer in the UK to be shot dead in the last 20 years.
The National Police Memorial Day was founded in 2004 by retired Kent police sergeant Joe Holness and is supported by the Police Federation of England and Wales.
Next year’s service is scheduled for Sunday 26 September at Lincoln Cathedral.