And yesterday, at London’s Guildhall, some extraordinary tales were told.
The great old venue played host to a unique and very special gathering of police officers, emergency services colleagues and members of the public. Welcomed jointly by the Met, BTP and the City of London Police, they came to honour those who responded to the succession of terrorist attacks that happened in London earlier this year. And to remember those who died.
Something like 200 commendations were awarded at the ceremony – in recognition of the frankly staggering levels of heroism and humanity displayed following the attacks at Westminster, London Bridge and Finsbury Park – and the stories behind each of them are breathtaking. In the face of the very worst that human beings are capable of, we were witnesses to the very, very best.
Amongst the endless astonishing accounts, I want to make brief mention of three particular individuals.
At about 2.40pm on Wednesday 22 March 2017, a terrorist launched an attack on Westminster Bridge and at the Houses of Parliament. Five people were murdered and many more were injured.
Keith Palmer was a police officer, a husband and a dad. Unarmed, he stepped forwards not back – and he paid the greatest price of all. Greater love hath no man than to lay his life down.
Just after 10pm on Saturday 3 June 2017, three terrorists carried out an attack on London Bridge and at Borough Market. Eight people were murdered and forty-eight more were rushed to hospital. The attackers were armed with knives and wearing what appeared to be suicide vests.
Wayne Marques is a British Transport Police officer. He had just started his shift at London Bridge when the attack happened. And he didn’t hesitate. Armed only with his baton, he ran to confront the terrorists. He suffered major injuries to his head, left hand and left leg.
Charlie Guenigault is a Metropolitan Police officer. He was off duty with friends, enjoying a drink near London Bridge when the attack happened. And he didn’t hesitate. He ran to help PC Marques. He was stabbed in his head, leg, back and stomach. He needed surgery to remove his spleen.
And I find that I begin to run out of words to describe how I feel about what they did that night.
These men are giants. And theirs are stories for the ages.
As are those of each one of their colleagues – and of the medical staff and members of the public who played their various parts with absolute distinction. There is so much more that might be said but, truly, they represent the very best of who we are and what we can be.
To borrow from remarks made by Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball at yesterday’s event, words cannot replace what we have lost – and we would not seek to do so. So we will simply tell the stories of those who were there.
I work with heroes.