PCC Blog 70

There was an extraordinary paradox at the sentencing of the man who murdered Sarah Everard.

On the one hand, we saw someone who betrayed everything a police officer is meant to be. On the other, we saw police officers commended by the judge for ‘the most impressive police investigation’ he had come across in his entire 30 year career. The worst and the best.

The accused had abused his position as a police officer in order to persuade Sarah to get into his car. It is all very well now for people to say – wise after the event – that if a lone woman finds herself approached in similar circumstances she should vigorously question the officer’s authority. But the whole point of this shocking abduction, rape and murder is that there was no reason to question. This man was a serving police officer, not an ex-police officer or a fake one. He had a warrant card and, it seems, arrested Sarah on the basis of his valid credentials and, no doubt, his authoritative and confident manner as an experienced police officer. And in any case, we all know that resisting arrest is in itself an offence. (One can see how this ‘advice’ to people when stopped by an officer could have the perverse and unintended consequence of leading some who are legitimately stopped, getting themselves into further trouble by ‘resisting’.)

But what also struck me about this chilling crime was the way it created multiple victims.

The primary victim was Sarah, and we do not forget that. But reading the extraordinarily powerful impact statements that her family made revealed in terrifying detail how they too were victims of this man’s brutality. We also learnt that he had a family of his own, including two children. He has devastated their lives as well because the knowledge of who their father was will follow them all their days. Then there were those in the emergency services, particularly the police, who had to recover Sarah’s burnt body. And, as the ripples extend, every woman in the country has felt a little less safe and a little less trusting in the police service. A very long shadow has been cast.

Firearms licensing

Following the killing of five people, including a child, by a gunman in Portsmouth recently, there was a great deal of disquiet across the country about who can legally own a weapon and how the system of licensing is managed. As you would expect, I immediately asked our force for reassurances.

There are essentially two gun types: firearms and shotguns. The former fire single bullets. The latter discharge a number of small pellets. A licence for a firearm is harder to acquire than a shotgun. The latter are used by farmers and others in our more rural communities for controlling pests – such as foxes. Nationwide there are something like 1.4m shotguns but only 156,000 firearms.

Applications are dealt with by each local force and since 2021 people have begun by applying and paying on line. Applications are then added to the National Firearms Licensing Management system and applicants visited by a Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO). They will determine the suitability of the applicant, considering such factors as their ability to keep a weapon safely and whether they have any history of domestic abuse or any medical health condition that might suggest caution. The information the FEO gathers is reviewed by senior officers, risks assessed, and a decision made. Their decisions can be appealed at the Crown Court.

I was reassured by the fact that the system is frequently checked and monitored so that any misconduct by the license holder or medical notification from a GP is quickly picked up – though we do need GPs to be alert. Licenses can be revoked – which again is subject to appeal.

Since 2016 applicants have been required to be screened by their GP and the police write to them. This seemed the wrong way round to me and I gather that the process may be changed nationally so that the applicant will have to get a medical report first, as part of the application process.

As with so much police work, this is another area that is unseen by most members of the public. When we think about the cuts in the past and the need for renewal in the future, we need to bear in mind police staff as well as police officers. This too is vital work and just as necessary if we are to be kept safe.

Thorne and Moorends

I attended a meeting of the Thorne Business Forum recently along with local councillors, the local neighbourhood police inspector, the Mayor of Doncaster and some of her staff. We met at the Moorends Miners’ Welfare building – an impressively busy community centre, making an impressively proper cup of Yorkshire tea. We discussed a range of issues – from shoplifting to parking.

It is so important to be able to get out and about and meet people in person and in their local settings. Seeing people on screen de-contextualises everyone and everything. We could all be on the moon. But in meetings such as this you can gauge far better the strength of feeling in the room and by journeying there – seeing the shops and houses – get a better sense of what the issues are that people are talking about.

Vigil for Mohamed Koroma

On Friday evening last week I went to Castle Square, Sheffield, to take part in a short vigil in memory of Mohamed Issa Koroma. He was stabbed to death near the square at about 4.30pm one afternoon in September.

Mohamed was 24.

As I pointed out in last week’s blog, homicide is a very rare crime. And if this murder turns out to be an attack by a stranger, even rarer. That, of course, is no comfort to the family, who held on to each other in a dignified silence as we lit candles and remembered Mohamed.

I went to show some solidarity with the family in their distress, along with the forty or so others who were there to do the same – including the editor of the Star, Nancy Fielder, and the new Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council, Kate Josephs. But I was recognised and asked to say a few words, which I did. After saying how saddened I was for the family, I was able to say how we had all been upset by this, not least those police officers who were first on the scene.

As I came away I stopped to speak to three officers who were on duty in the town centre. And as I did so, I reflected on the fact that every day when they set out they can never be sure what awaits them as they seek to keep us safe.

Stay safe and well.