PCC Blog 113

Last week I supported the Elizabeth Medal campaign.

The medal would be for police officers who are killed in the line of duty. The initiative began with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. He had met with Bryn Hughes, the father of PC Nicola Hughes, who was murdered along with her colleague, PC Fiona Bone, while attending an emergency call in Mottram, Thameside, in 2012. You may recall the incident which made national headlines because of the appalling circumstances.

The two PCs, aged 23 and 32, responded to a 999 call, sent by the killer, as a deliberate ploy to lure them to where he was waiting. He was already on bail for another serious offence and had a grudge against the police. When they arrived, he fired at them and threw a grenade. Nicola died on the spot and Fiona later from her wounds. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, called it a ‘despicable act … of pure evil’. (One of our South Yorkshire officers was serving in the Greater Manchester police at the time and had to break the news to the family of one of the PCs.)

No posthumous award exists for officers (or their families) and Bryn Hughes is working with the Police Federation to try to persuade the government to do something similar to the Elizabeth Cross which is given to the next of kin of those armed forces personnel who are killed on active service. The Elizabeth Medal would be for the family of any emergency service workers who lose their lives while protecting others, not just the police. Mercifully, this is a very rare crime.

In the face of danger, the advice to the public from the emergency services, is to run away, while they, if necessary, run towards danger in order to protect us. It is for this reason that I felt it right to support the campaign, not least because this year marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Nicola and Fiona.

Assisted dying, the law and Hillsborough

In 1989 a seventeen year old football supporter, Anthony Bland was caught up in the fatal crush at the Hillsborough football ground. He was not killed, but his lungs were crushed and he was starved of oxygen. This put him in what at that time was called a persistent vegetative state.

I thought of Tony Bland last week as I read about the contemporary and equally distressing story of 12-year-old Archie Battersbee. Archie has been in a coma since he was found unconscious at home in April.  Unlike Archie’s parents, however, the family of Tony Bland applied to the courts not to have his treatment prolonged but to have it stopped. One of the judges in that case, Lord Justice Hoffmann, described his condition in this way:

Anthony Bland has no consciousness at all…. The darkness and oblivion which descended at Hillsborough will never depart. His body is alive, but he has no life in the sense that even the most pitifully handicapped but conscious human being has a life. But the advances of modern medicine permit him to be kept in this state for years, even perhaps for decades.

Despite the fact that both the family and the medical staff treating him were in agreement, they still had to go to court. This was because the coroner in Sheffield was beginning to enquire into the deaths caused by the Hillsborough disaster and he was notified by the doctor treating Tony Bland, Dr J.G.Howe, about his condition and what the family and the medical team wanted to do. The coroner accepted that maintaining Tony Bland’s life had no point, but warned the doctor that he ran the risk of the police pursuing criminal charges – possibly even a charge of murder – if he intentionally ended Tony Bland’s life.

And that has remained the position ever since. But we should note how significant that moment was in February 1993 when the Law Lords decided that doctors could intentionally end the life of their patient. We had always accepted that a life might be lost if drugs that were administered in order to reduce pain in the end led to loss of life, because the intention of the doctor was not to end the life but to suppress the pain. But this judgement allowed doctors to end a life.

An older ethic about the sanctity of life for its own sake was giving way to the idea that the value of a life turned on a judgement about whether it was worthwhile or meaningful – issues about the quality of life. The ethics of assisted dying have been debated more passionately ever since and the law has struggled to keep up. In the UK, at any rate, it began with these decisions arising out of the Hillsborough disaster.

A decade on

When I first became Police and Crime Commissioner in 2014, the results of the 2011 Census were known and we used them all the time to inform our planning. Those figures are now more than ten years out of date, but until recently they were still forming the basis of a lot of thinking. Gradually, however, we are beginning to receive the results of the 2021 Census – and in some respects they are starting to surprise us and this will have an impact on policing.

Take population figures – which are one crucial factor in determining how much money we receive from the government for policing. Although our population in South Yorkshire has grown, it has not grown by as much as the average across the country as a whole. There are also significant differences within the four districts which may affect how police resources ought to be distributed here.

So, while the England average population increase has been 6.6%, in Barnsley it was 5.8%, in Rotherham it was 3.3%, in Doncaster 1.9%, and in Sheffield it hardly grew at all at 0.7%. In the decade 2011-2021 Sheffield’s population stood still.

Also interesting are the figures for the various age groups. In Barnsley, the over 65s grew by a massive 19.2%. In Doncaster and Rotherham this was also large at 16.9% and 16.4%  respectively, while in Sheffield it was 10.6%. Those aged 90 plus increased by 28% in Barnsley, by 18% in Doncaster and 10% in Sheffield and Rotherham.

At the other end of the age spectrum, while Barnsley’s under 15 years increased by 6% and  Rotherham’s by 2.3%, in Doncaster and Sheffield there was a decrease of 0.2% .

Barnsley is perhaps the most intriguing – it is getting both older and younger – with smaller increases in the age groups between.

We expect the figures for changes in the ethnic make-up of the county to start emerging in the autumn and I expect signifiant shifts there.

What it will all mean over the coming years is what we must now start to figure out.

Chinese community

Last week I was warmly welcomed at the Chinese Community Centre on London Road in Sheffield.   I wanted to ask them about their relations with South Yorkshire police – which are good.

It is not often that members of that community draw themselves to my attention. They rarely feature in crime figures, either as perpetrators or victims. Though the police were on the alert when coronavirus first began to spread. In America, President Trump referred to it as ‘the China disease’ and there were fears that this might lead to assaults on Chinese people in the west. At moments like these we need to have already established good links between the police and a minority community.

The community did remind me, however, that tensions elsewhere in the world can have an impact in South Yorkshire unless they are carefully recognised and managed. There are, for instance, a number of very different Chinese communities now in our county who relate differently to each other in South East Asia.

The oldest Chinese community in Sheffield are those who came over from Hong Kong in the 1940s and 50s when Hong Kong was a British colony. They speak Cantonese. Present in large numbers now are students from Hong Kong and mainland China, all of whom are under communist rule. Those from the mainland may be Mandarin speakers. There are also more recent arrivals – those Hong Kong Chinese who have settled here with British passports. And there are Taiwanese Chinese whose relatives live in democratic Taiwan and are mainly hostile to communist China.

When there are tensions between these groups in the Far East – as there are currently between Taiwan and China – that is bound to concern people here. Part of the role of the community centre is to bring people together and enable all Chinese to live peaceably together here whatever is happening elsewhere.

We thank the community centre for their hospitality. They sent Katie, from my office, and me on our way with a box of dim sum, beautifully cooked for us.

And before you ask, yes we have declared them.