I hardly know where to begin, so I will begin by saying her name.
Her name was Sarah.
I’ve struggled for days to put my thoughts into some semblance of order – to make any kind of sense of what I’m thinking and feeling. I’m still struggling now.
What follows is my best (and no doubt inadequate) attempt to describe where I’ve got to – informed, I hope, by continuing to listen to the voices and wisdom of others: of women; of victims; of survivors; of ordinary people who are deeply and understandably horrified by what they have heard and seen.
It is difficult to imagine a crime more heinous; more wicked; more sickening. It is difficult to imagine it getting any worse than this. And there should be no hiding place for policing from the immensely difficult questions that follow. From the anger. From the disbelief. From the sense of absolute betrayal. That one sworn to protect us was the one responsible for this unthinkable crime.
When it comes to this case, nothing and no one is more important than Sarah, her family and all those who knew and loved her. They are the people I’m thinking about as I write this. And there is nothing – absolutely nothing – that can even begin to make up for what has been lost.
But, inevitably, I’m thinking about policing too. Because it’s what I did for more than twenty-five years of my life. Because it’s not just what I did, it’s part of who I am. Because it’s a job that I still love with all my heart and soul.
And it is in a very dark place – as difficult as any I can recall in the last twenty years.
What does Sarah’s murder tell us about policing in Britain in 2021? As best I can manage, these are my thoughts:
Three last thoughts.
Firstly, we need to remind ourselves of the harm done to policing by politicians in recent years. Through a combination of sweeping cuts and catastrophic, cack-handed decision-making, they have have made an immensely difficult job almost impossible to do well.
Secondly, we need to make sure that we are not asking policing to bear the blame for all of society’s ills. Policing is not separate from the rest of society. It is part of it. After all, we are them and they are us. We are facing profound challenges with male violence that extend far beyond policing. The murder of Sabina Nessa – and of hundreds of other women – tells us that this is so. And we are facing problems with misogyny that stretch far beyond policing too. Look at social media. Listen to the conversations in bar rooms and locker rooms. This isn’t just about policing. It’s about all of us.
Finally, if you are a police officer or member of police staff reading this, please keep your head up, no matter how difficult it gets. Keep reminding yourselves of the reasons why you joined. Keep saving lives. Keep finding the lost. Keep protecting the vulnerable. Keep doing all that makes you so extraordinary. And, if you ever hear or see anything from one of your colleagues that betrays who and what you are, make sure that do your duty.
There is so much more that might be said. And there is so much that needs to be done. For now though, I don’t want to hear his name ever again. I only want to remember her name.