Thursday, 15 October 2015

Tragedy of a fallen police officer - and communities that produced his alleged killer - my Catholic Universe column

Just over a month ago I wrote this column about the duty we all have to honour those men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line for our society on a daily basis. I wrote not just of the members of our armed forces who have fought in foreign theatres of war but of the thousands of extraordinary people who work putting out fires, saving lives in our hospitals and upholding law and order.

I wrote ‘Thankfully, in our mostly law abiding country the deaths of serving police officers…are rare occurrences…’ I couldn’t have possibly have foreseen that the next such tragedy of an officer being killed whilst on duty was only a few weeks away.

This week our nation was shocked and saddened by the death of Merseyside Police Officer David Phillips who died from internal injuries after he was mown down by a stolen vehicle whilst trying to apprehend the driver who was fleeing the scene of a suspected burglary.

PC Phillips was, by all accounts, an exemplary officer who mentored new recruits, helped to raise funds for charities in his down time and was a devoted husband and father to his wife Jen and two young daughters Sophie and Abigail.

Perhaps the most appropriate words to describe PC Phillips were included in the message left by his daughter, Sophie, at the scene of his death. He note simply said ‘Daddy, my hero, my super daddy, my world.’

In the grand scheme of things it means very little but I would like to thank him and his family for his service and sacrifice to our nation. PC David Phillips and his colleagues serving to protect us every day are heroes. He will not be forgotten.

As is always the case in tragedies such as these the full resources of the police service were rightly put to use to apprehend those responsible for the death of PC Phillips.

In a very short space of time arrests were made and an 18 year old man from the Wallasey area has subsequently been charged with his murder and it struck me as it does time and time again when we hear of this type of incident that it’s not just the lives of one family that were altered forever a few days ago.

Before I go any further I must be clear. This column is in absolutely no way an apology or seeking to justify the events surrounding the death of PC Phillips.

If anyone is found guilty of being culpable for the murder of a police officer during the course of his duty the full weight of the law should be brought upon him and the sentence imposed upon him should be severe. To my mind and I am sure to that of a great many more mitigation for such an abominable crime should be extremely limited.

It was, however, the age of the accused that caused me to think further.

At 18 we are all deemed in the eyes of the law to be adults. We must all take responsibility for our actions, we must all pay taxes and if we commit crimes we must face up to the consequences. That state of affairs is only right and proper.

But for anyone who has children of that age, or who works with them, we know that a great many 18 year olds are a long, long way from the maturity needed for adult life.

Whilst the law may be clear that adulthood starts on ones eighteenth birthday reality shows that childhood in all too many cases continues for many for months and, in some cases, even years.

Last week The Sunday Times published a long expose looking at the culture of ‘laddism’ in British universities, and what the establishments are trying to do to tackle it, which particularly manifests itself during Freshers weeks. The article documents tales of groping, excessive drinking, hedonism and passing out which, it claims are prevalent at this time of year.

In one section the author, Katie Glass, beautifully writes ‘On the streets, absurdly young-looking teenagers trundle suitcases and heave duvets out of parent’s cars, giving them self-consciously discreet kisses goodbye, as they head towards the halls.’

In that sentence we have before us all that we need to know. These 18 year olds, for that is what most Freshers are, may well be taking their first steps into adult life but a great many do not have the skills or maturity to deal with the challenges that lie immediately ahead of them.

It does not matter if at 18 you are turning up to attend one of our nation’s most prestigious places of higher education for the first time, or whether you are starting adult life in one of our most deprived areas so many of our young people are not ready, but ready they must be.

But of course the support mechanisms in place to help young people into adulthood vary dramatically throughout Britain and differ between one family and the next.

In the run up to the 1997 General Election a great deal was made about, then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Blair’s mantra ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’.

In what became a seminal soundbite of the age Mr Blair sought to enunciate a vision that where offending happened it should be vigorously tackled but at the same time greater action was needed to educate and enable young people and families to move away from lifestyles which lead to criminality.

In some ways Mr Blair’s vision was a success. Anti-social behaviour and low level criminality remains at historically low rates. In other ways being tough on the causes of crime has failed.

In 2000 the then Labour government produced its periodic statistics on deprivation in Britain. At that time the 5 most deprived local authorities in the country were Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Knowsley, Manchester and Great Yarmouth.

Earlier this year the statistics were produced again. The top 5 of most deprived areas this time around were Manchester, Liverpool, Tower Hamlets, Knowsley, and Middlesbrough.

Four of the five most deprived areas of our country are the same, although in a slightly different order, as they were 15 years ago.

We know that criminality is all too often linked to deprivation, and we know that deprivation affects health, education, and countless other demands on public services.

When we look at 18 year olds we know that with a few exceptions their future life expectations have been formed in the events that have already happened to them and the surroundings they have been raised in.

As a nation we must be doing so much more to give those adult children the opportunities they need to make positive contributions to our society.

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