Howard's Way 24 November 2005

Contributed by editor on Nov 24, 2005 - 12:07 AM

HOWARD'S WAY.... a weekly column from Michael Howard MP

<IMG height=195 hspace=10 src="" width=130 align=right vspace=10 border=0>24 November 2005

No-one could fail to be moved by the tragic murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky. Mowed down o­n her daughter’s fourth birthday, her killing is the latest cruel and stark reminder of the debt we owe to the police. They really do risk their lives o­n our behalf every time they go o­n duty and that is something we should never forget.

But this tragedy has also given rise to debate o­n some serious questions of public policy. It is certainly arguable that this is not the best time to discuss these issues. Emotions inevitably run deep in the aftermath of events of this kind and, it is said, we should do better to wait until passions have cooled and the climate is right for a more rational debate.

The trouble with this argument is that when passions cool the debate rarely takes place. The attention of the media move o­n and the debate concentrates o­n whatever subject is then grabbing the headlines.

So I do not think we can escape the arguments o­n the two questions which have surfaces in the last few days – capital punishment and the arming of the police.

Lord Stevens, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has said that this tragedy changed his mind and converted him to the cause of capital punishment for the murder of police officers. I know and greatly respect Lord Stevens. But I disagree with him o­n this.

Many years ago I changed my mind the other way. I was converted from a belief in capital punishment by the clear evidence of cases like the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four that human justice can never be infallible and that you can hardly ever be certain that no mistake is being made. I remain of that view.

As for arming the police, there may well be a case for arming more police officers than is currently the case. But I am not persuaded that all our police officers should be armed. It would change the nature of the country we live in. And I am not convinced that it would necessarily help in dealing with the increase in gun crime we are now suffering.

There is nothing inevitable about this increase. Gun crime fell when I was Home Secretary. But we should be careful about simplistic answers. We do need cool rational debate about all these questions.