I, stupidly, flicked my TV over to BBC One just as last night's Panorama special on the Derrick Bird shootings in Cumbria began. Seeing that it might actually provide a clearer time line of what happened (and that it did) I decided to watch it.
Alas, interspersed with a run through of the time line of Bird's horrendous activities came BBC commentary on how the emergency services let people down. This came with on the scene witnesses understandable complaints along lines of "I can't believe the police didn't stop him."
The emergency services do a necessary and sterling job. The police are there to catch and punish those who break our laws. The fire service are there to rescue us when something monstrous occurs. The ambulance service are there to mend our wounds and get us to the hospital as quickly as possible. Wonderful stuff and I am absolutely in favour of supporting their work. The following is in no way a reflection upon the effort or thought they put into their jobs.
However, it's time people understood something: they cannot protect you. There is no way the police, fire and ambulance services can be with you 24 hours a day, nor much chance they can get to you in time to stop something awful happening. They'll do their best. But they won't be able to keep you safe. It's scary, I know. But it's a fact.
Panorama suggested ambulance crews should have been allowed into the shooting area, instead of held back until the all clear was given. Tell that to Hazel Haslett, a paramedic who was injured when she drove her ambulance into the killzone during the Hungerford Massacre. Of course the emergency services should expect some element of risk in their jobs, but would YOU drive willingly into a killzone? I say I might, but I'm a fool... and I'd NEVER expect anyone else to do the same on my behalf.
They also suggested that some unarmed police, who were in pursuit of Bird, were somehow in the wrong for ACCIDENTALLY losing his trail. 1) these things happen. 2) it was probably best that people who weren't armed avoided Bird. PC Roger Brereton was killed when he arrived on the scene in Hungerford. Shot, he crashed his car and died as he radioed in his condition to dispatch. He was just doing his job. I wonder if the reporter on Panorama would be prepared to die by confronting an armed MADMAN without any protection. I doubt it.
It's easy, in the wake of something so incomprehensible, to try to find some sense in events by blaming those "in control". But it's pointless. These random actions make no sense. Human beings make no sense. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can move on to the bigger questions (such as "How do we stop someone like Derrick Bird before they go off the deep end?"). Knee jerk reactions such as criticising the police for minor mistakes, that are ALWAYS going to occur when something like this happens, and calling for more gun controls do nothing to help stop another massacre.
Of course, I'm not saying there shouldn't be an independent review of the emergency service response. That would be useful anyway. The authorities should be held to account and lessons should be learnt. But stupid complaints, made off the cuff by people who are obviously confused and hurt by the events they experienced, should not be the basis of questioning of police chiefs by a professional journalist.
It was mostly certainly a BBC Panorama FAIL.
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