The debate over whether to give British police officers guns has been reignited following the killing of two unarmed officers, who authorities believe may have been lured to their deaths in an ambush by a suspected double killer.
Police constables Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23, were shot dead after responding to a hoax call about a burglary in the northern English city of Manchester. A grenade was also thrown during the attack.
Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Peter Fahy said that it appeared to have been “an act of absolutely cold-blooded murder. It's almost impossible to fathom such an evil act."
The suspect, Dale Cregan, 29, handed himself into a local police station after the shootings on Tuesday.
The Telegraph newspaper reported Cregan had been arrested on suspicion of murdering a man called Mark Short in June, but was then released on bail as police investigated and went into hiding. Cregan is also suspected of killing Short’s father David in August.
Police officers in the U.K. do not routinely carry guns, but armed response units can be called to incidents involving firearms.
Darren Rathband, the twin brother of Constable David Rathband who killed himself 18 months after he was shot and blinded by a gunman in July 2010, called for British officers to be given guns, The Guardian newspaper reported.
"It beggars belief. How many officers need to die before the powers realize that it is the 21st century and you cannot fight crime with an outdated piece of plastic [U.K. police's truncheon] and a bit of spray?,” he said. “…I am angry some other families have now lost a daughter, sister, mother or wife and it makes me angry that the thin blue line is getting thinner and thinner."
Paul Beshenivsky, widower of Police Constable Sharon Beshenivsky, who was shot dead in 2005, told ITV News that it was time to give firearms to police.
“I think police, in honesty, should be armed,” he said. “I think something more should be done for the safety of officers.”
He said his wife’s death had been talked about for several years after she was killed but then had been “sort of slightly forgotten.”
Sir Hugh Orde, president of the U.K.’s Association of Chief Police Officers, told ITV News that the murders were a “stark reminder” of the risks police officers faced.
“I don’t think there’s any desire from the [police] service, top to bottom, quite frankly for a routinely armed police service,” he said, noting that armed officers were available to respond when needed.
“Whilst this is an awful week for the service, fortunately these events are very rare still,” he added.
Life in prison 'an equal deterrent'
Asked whether the death penalty should be brought back in the U.K. for police killers, Orde said he was not in favor of the idea.
“I think if an officer is shot on duty … anyone convicted should go to prison and never come out,” he said. “I think that’s an equal deterrent and more fitting to our current culture.”
And Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, warned against a “rush to instant judgments.”
"We have a long tradition in this country, which is a great tradition, of policing in the community, of the police being part of the public and the public supporting and giving their consent to the police,” he said Wednesday, according to The Guardian newspaper.
"I think if we were, in an instant to, in a sense, arm our police to the teeth so they become separate from the public, that would be quite a big change, which would have considerable risks attached to it,” he added.
NBC News' partner ITV News and Reuters contributed to this report.
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