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The Fight They Won’t Win

On Monday night at about half past ten, hordes of teenagers and young children started to pour out of Manchester Arena following an evening enjoying an Ariana Grande concert. Some carried the pink balloons that had played a part in the show. Happy chatter and laughter filled the air. There was no warning of what was to follow as Salman Abedi walked in to the foyer filled with patiently waiting parents, and those starting to leave the venue, and detonated a horrific suicide bomb, filled with nuts and bolts – created to cause the most damage possible. The moment of the explosion was caught on a dashcam of a waiting car. The sound deep and unforgettable. A moment of violence that would change the lives of those standing around Abedi at that moment, and those who saw the carnage afterwards.

The UK has become used to hearing about terrorist attacks at home and abroad. We all know that the police have already managed to stop several attacks due to surveillance and intelligence methods, honed over years of dealing with IRA terrorism in the past. We knew that there was the chance of more attacks. But for an extremist to target an audience of predominantly young people, some very young indeed, has been the cause of deep anger and shock across the nation.

Abedi, whose family originate from Libya, was born in the UK. He has had the opportunity to free healthcare from our NHS, he has had free education and schooling, he has had the freedom we cherish in the UK. We took his family in when they needed to escape Libya and Gaddafi. He repaid that kindness by striking at the heart of what our freedom stands for – the chance to enjoy music and dancing, to gather with friends and family, to celebrate a female singer who stands for female empowerment and independence. That he chose to target a predominently young, female audience was surely no accident. Islamic State, as they choose to call themselves, are against the emancipation of women, against equality. I wonder what went through his mind in those seconds before he detonated his bomb. Did he see the faces of those around him? Did he feel for one fleeting moment their humanity and innocence?

As the investigation commences in to Abedi’s connection with extremists, this horrendous attack and the thinking behind it, must be a catalyst to stop this disease within our society. We value our freedoms and we value our diversity as a nation. We welcome those from other cultures who wish to share those aims, who wish to work here and contribute to our communities. But those who wish to come in to our midst and sow seeds of discord and violence are not welcome. There must be and has to be a clampdown on those who profess extremist beliefs, who wish to bring Sharia law to our shores, those who engage with radicals and are determined to boost their cause. These people must be removed from our communities. It seems that each time an extremist causes carnage, the police admit that the culprit had already been on their radar. Those on the radar must now be dealt with, and there has to be a determination from law enforcement and government to do this.

This is not about race. This is not about religion or culture. This is about refusing to accept extremist, violent people – CRIMINAL and ANTI-SOCIAL people who are against everything we as a nation stand for and believe.

And as we come to terms with the grief and shock of losing 22 people, who did nothing more than go out for an evening of entertainment, we must hold our beliefs dear. We must stand strong and show these inhuman extremists what love and faith and unity really are. For it is at the very worst of times that we see the best in human nature. We must continue to be tolerant and accepting and free people, the very opposite of the hate, intolerance and cruelty the extremists promote.

And in living our free lives, they can have no hold over us. It is a fight that they can never, and will never, win.

 

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The Agony of Britain’s Missing People

Their faces gaze out at us from newspapers, documentaries, the internet. Some of their names are well known to us – Claudia Lawrence, Corrie McKeague, Madeleine McCann. Many we have never heard of. They are the missing people, the ones who vanished one ordinary day and were never seen again.

The families of the missing continue to wait for news of their loved ones. Some run campaigns to keep awareness alive, some have put their energies in to helping other families going through the same thing. The wait must feel interminable, and sometimes there is no end.

So what happens to these missing people? How can someone just disappear without trace, without anyone knowing where they are? Some may have chosen to leave their old lives behind. Some may have been involved in a tragic accident but never found. I remember a boy I had grown up with suddenly disappearing just before Christmas, not long after his eighteenth birthday. He had been on a night out, had been seen saying he planned to walk home although he was very drunk. His mother was distraught, searching, asking for information , to no avail. Eventually, one of his trainers was found stuck in the mud at the side of the canal. And soon after, his body was dredged up. He had lost his balance while walking down the narrow towpath. It was a terrible, spur of the moment end to what had been a drawn out mystery.

I wonder how many other missing people have met a similar, non suspicious end but were never discovered?

Currently, a landfill is being searched in the hunt for Corrie McKeague. How many other missing people ended up in such a place but were never discovered?

It is a terrible thing to consider – that those families will never have an answer to the whereabouts of their loved one.

Then there are those who clearly did not leave by choice, did not come to an unfortunate but non-violent death -, those who were taken. People like Claudia Lawrence, who seems to have been taken – possibly by someone already known to her. The police believe that there are those in the York area who know exactly what happened to the young chef, but won’t divulge what they know.

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There is Damien Nettles, a teenager out on the town with a camera, drunkenly taking odd snaps of those around him. Last seen on a chip shop CCTV, waving goodbye to the owner before disappearing in to the night. Again, there are those on the Isle of Wight who know what happened to Damien that night. They know where he lies, but will not tell his desperate family.

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What about Andrew Gosden, a fourteen year old who inexplicably decided to travel to London alone instead of going to school in September 2007? Did he go to meet someone? Where is he now?

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Sometimes the missing become the found – in devastating circumstances. Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were once two missing girls. They are now known as the tragic murder victims of Ian Huntley.

It is every mother’s worst nightmare – to lose a child, even when they are considered adults. The police say that if a missing person has not been found within 72hrs, the chances are that they are dead or have come to harm. It is a frightening prospect.

It is beyond belief that individuals may know information relating to missing people and their whereabouts, but do not come forward. How these people can face their guilt every day while families suffer the tremendous grief of not knowing, not being able to say goodbye, is a mystery to anyone with a heart.

There are anonymous ways you can give information to the police – through Crimestoppers for example, which you can do online with an anonymous form.

https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/give-information-online/

If you have information about anyone you know has been reported missing, please do the right thing. Do it for their families, who are still waiting to find their loved ones.

 

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PC Palmer and the Re-Appreciation of the Police

When, on Wednesday 22nd March 2017, a crazed fanatic drove his car down the pavement of Westminster Bridge before plunging a knife in to the policeman who was standing guard at the Palace of Westminster, nobody could have foreseen the national feeling of sorrow and loss for a serving policeman doing his job.

Unarmed and at the front line, PC Keith Palmer was used to checking in arrivals at parliament, fielding questions from passersby and having his picture taken with tourists. While trained for such possibilities as terrorist attacks, it is unlikely that he was expecting that moment when an armed Khalid Masood approached him, with murder in his mind.

PC Palmer was, by all accounts, a decent man. He had served in the army, he was good at his job, he had a family and friends who loved him. He didn’t deserve to die in such a gruesome way, by an attacker who just wanted to make a political or religious point.

The outcry following PC Palmer’s death was genuine and heartfelt. So often, the media are happy to complain about our emergency services – particularly the police – for missing clues or not acting as deemed appropriate by some journalist or other. The truth of the matter is, that while some police actions may not be adequate, or may be mis-judged, every day these men and women face dangers and unpleasantness that most of us would happily run away from.

PC Palmer knew that there was a minute possibility that someone might target him for the very uniform he was wearing. Now, more than ever, when our service men and women are warned not to travel to or from work in their uniforms, he knew what it meant to stand where he was, acting as the policeman on duty that morning. He still did his job.

While others ran for safety when gunshots and screaming were heard, our emergency services were running in the opposite direction -straight in to danger. It is gratifying to know that so many felt the loss of this policeman doing his duty that his body was allowed to rest in the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft at the Houses of Parliament – an honour usually reserved for heads of state – and that he was given a funeral at Southwark Cathedral, after being taken along a route lined with mourners and 5000 police officers, standing in silent tribute.

So often our police forces, and other emergency services personnel, bear the brunt of not only dealing with our worst moments of crisis, but our vitriol when things go wrong. Let us remember that every day they risk their lives and their safety to make sure that WE are all kept safe. And that makes them the biggest heroes of all.

RIP Keith Palmer.