Sermon at service to commemorate police officers killed in the line of duty, St Davids Hall, Cardiff , October 2nd 2005
In his novel Amsterdam , Ian McEwan has a marvellous passage describing life in a police station one evening. One of the leading characters, named Clive, has been asked to come in and make a statement. McEwan writes:
He was allowed to come through to the heart of the station, where people were charged. In the early evening, he witnessed a scuffle in front of the duty sergeant; a big, sweating teenager with a shaved head had been picked up hiding in a back garden with bolt cutters, master keys, padsaw and a sledgehammer concealed beneath his coat. He was not a burglar, he insisted, and no way was he going in the cells. When the sergeant told him he was, the boy hit a constable in the face and was wrestled to the floor by two other constables who put handcuffs on him and led him away. No one seemed much bothered, not even the policeman with the split lip, but Clive put a restraining hand over his leaping heart and was obliged to sit down. Later, a patrolman carried in a white-faced, silent four-year-old boy who had been found wandering about the car park of a derelict pub. Later still, a tearful Irish family came to claim him. Two hair chewing girls, twin daughters of a violent father, came in for their own protection and were treated with jokey familiarity. A woman with a bleeding face lodged a complaint against her husband. A very ancient black lady whom osteoporosis had folded double had been thrown out of her room by her daughter in law and had nowhere to go. Social workers came and went and most of them looked as criminally inclined, or as unfortunate, as their clients. Everybody smoked. In the fluorescent light everybody looked ill. There was a lot of scorching tea in plastic cups and there was a lot of shouting, and routine, uncolourful swearing, and clenched-fist threats that no one took seriously. It was one huge unhappy family with domestic problems that were of their nature insoluble. This was the family living room. Clive shrank behind his brick red tea. In his world it was rare for someone to raise his voice, and he found himself all evening in a state of exhausted excitement. Practically every member of the public who came in, voluntarily or not, was down at heel, and it seemed to Clive that the main business of the police was to deal with the numerous and unpredictable consequences of poverty, which they did with far more patience and less squeamishness than he ever could.
The police have to contend with people and problems that most of us only read about but which are part and parcel of too many lives. It’s not easy but it’s essential that they are there for people to turn to. In a recent survey when people were asked what categories of people they most trusted, whereas journalists, senior managers and politicians were low on the list, the police, the judiciary and doctors scored quite highly.
The issue of whom to trust is an important one for our society. The Graham Committee Survey on standards in public life in 2004 concluded that the public wants office holders to be more honest or truthful about policies and services, acknowledging difficulties and competing pressures and also admitting or owning up when things go wrong or have unintended consequences. It was Aristotle who said that ‘ethical leadership must come from those in public office. Such people exercise a teaching function. Among other things we see what they do and think that is how we should act. Unfortunately when they do things that are underhanded and dishonest that teaches us too".
What then are the characteristics which can lead to trust? The most important according to this same Graham committee survey is that we trust those who act solely in the public interest with selflessness and integrity. Put in more simple language we trust people who in their work do what they say they are going to do – acting with integrity and who are willing to take risks for the sake of others (selflessness) and those are things which many police officers do, consciously or unconsciously, practically every day of their lives. For police forces exist to defend the rights of ordinary citizens and to prevent crime and lawlessness and in pursing those goals they put their lives at risk sometimes with tragic consequences. And that is what we are here to mark today in an act of remembrance and thanksgiving to God for all those men and women from our police forces who have died defending the cause of truth and justice. In carrying out those aims they lost their lives because they put a higher value on those principles than in their own safety and lives. They and their families have borne the cost of those risks, risks that many of you take day by day in the course of your daily work often without thought for the possible consequences.
Death of course is not the only risk – the risk of permanent injury is as great and they and their families have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. I do not know if you heard Norman Tebitt talk about the effects the Brighton bombing has had on his wife. It makes moving reading because it may describe some of your situations exactly. This is what he says.
"Every morning as I wake my wife is there beside me, still the same person she was when we married almost 50 years ago. But no more can she sit up and say "it’s a lovely day let’s go for a walk" as we did across the moors with the children and the dogs. For her, pain is the ever present companion, disability the load she never ceases to bear. For her that quick shower and breakfast is a three hour routine with a carer. Not for the wheel chair bound the quick decision to take the train nor the cheap flight to Paris or Rome . No more the shared laughter at the awkward stairs or the poky bathroom of the village B and B in the heart of rural France and the fun of being off the beaten track. Never will we take those adventure trips from the brochures falling through the post box every day. I know how it hurts my wife that she never held our grandchildren on her knee nor prepared the treats they loved. Hers is now a life of dependency having to ask for everything from waking to the end of the day depending on me and the succession of carers with whom we have to share our lives."
Integrity, truth, selflessness and sacrifice are biblical concepts. The God of the Bible is the God who says and does what he promises to do and say and in the person of Jesus he puts himself at risk even to the point of death for the sake of his world – because he created it and loves it. He knows therefore from the inside what sorrow and pain are like and that is why he is always on the side of those who suffer, who mourn and who are sad and his promise is – hard though it may be at times to believe it, that sorrow, suffering and death will not have the last word for he is the God who in the end defeats and overcomes all that mars his creation and in Christ Jesus is able to make all things new.