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September 20 2012 5 20 /09 /September /2012 06:12

Manchester mourns murdered PCs

Police investigate 'criminal conspiracy' that allegedly helped the suspect in police killings remain hidden

Police officer lays flowers close
A police officer leaves flowers close to the scene where Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were killed. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of messages of condolence for the loss of two constables shot dead in the line of duty are flooding into Greater Manchester police.

 

Officers held a minute's silence on Wednesday in memory of Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23. Some wiped away tears as they stood in silence, heads bowed, in stations across the area.

 

Sir Peter Fahy, Greater Manchester's chief constable, said the messages would be passed on to the officers' families and the outpouring of support would mean a huge amount to them.

 

"Nicola was our only daughter. She was always happy with life and lived for her family," said her parents, Susan and Bryn Hughes. "She had an infectious personality and sense of humour and was a very caring and loving girl. We cannot express how we feel today except to say we have always been exceedingly proud of Nicola and always will be."

 

Bone's lived in Sale with her partner Clare, with whom she was planning a civil partnership, and Clare's daughter Jessie.

Her family said in a statement: "In addition to the kind tribute from the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, may I add that our family have lost a wonderful daughter, sister, partner and parent to Jessie."

 

Theresa May, the home secretary, cut short her holiday to fly to Manchester as Fahy said the gangland feud that had killed his officers threatened the lives of their colleagues and dozens of other people. The investigation into the murders of the police officers – the worst police killings since 1966, when three officers were shot dead in west London – continued against the backdrop of a criminal feud between two families in north Manchester.

 

It emerged on Wednesday that either Hughes or Bone may have tried to fire her Taser to protect herself as she came under a hail of bullets on Tuesday morning. The force said a Taser was found on the ground out of its holster at the scene.

 

Armed police are patrolling nearby Droylsden and Clayton 24 hours a day, and flashes of violence continued on Wednesday as shots were fired. A major aspect of the inquiry is the "criminal conspiracy" that allegedly helped the suspect in the police killings remain hidden for five weeks.

 

Despite a £50,000 reward and 50 armed raids across Greater Manchester, including on the Hattersley estate, north Manchester, the hunt for Dale Cregan – who was wanted for the murders of a father and son – met a wall of silence and fear, and officers failed to apprehend him. Instead, the two female police officers died on Tuesday morning in a grenade and gun attack while answering a call to a burglary in Abbey Gardens on the estate.

 

An hour later Cregan handed himself in at a police station in Hyde. He was being questioned on Wednesday on suspicion of the murders of the police officers and a father and son, David and Mark Short. A second man, 28, was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of conspiracy to murder the officers.

 

Fahy was defensive when asked at a press conference why two unarmed officers had been sent to an estate that was known to have connections with a wanted fugitive.

 

He said there had been no intelligence to link the address in Abbey Gardens to the hunt for the suspect.

 

"There were clearly suspicions that he was in the area," he said. "But we have hundreds of incidents every day in that area and it would have been impractical to send armed officers to every one of those."

 

The Guardian understands the two individuals who lived in the house in Abbey Gardens are not being treated as suspects. Police have spoken to them, but they have not been arrested and are unlikely to be.

 

Instead it is understood the couple, a 33-year-old man and his girlfriend, may have been held against their will inside the house before the call was made to which PCs Bone and Hughes responded.

 

A measure of the gulf the police have to bridge in their investigation emerged on Wednesday. Youths on the estate where the officers met their deaths were heard laughing and shouting "Pop, pop", and on Facebook a "Dale Cregan for OBE" page received several anti-police comments before being taken down.

 

The level of fear in and around north Manchester was further illustrated when Fahy revealed that dozens of men, women and children had been issued with Osman warnings, detailing threats to their lives as a result of the feud.

 

Fahy defended the decision to bail Cregan in June after his arrest on suspicion of the murder of Mark Short, 23, who was gunned down in the early hours of the morning on 25 May in the Cotton Tree pub in Droylsden.

 

Two months later Short's father, David, was killed at his home in Clayton, a mile away from the Cotton Tree, in a grenade and gun attack. Immediately afterwards police began their manhunt, naming Cregan and issuing the £50,000 reward. Police carried out more than 100 raids – 50 by armed officers – some of which focused on the Hattersley estate in Tameside.

There were reports from the estate this week that while the search continued Cregan was regularly seen drinking in pubs. But these reports could not be verified. Claims that he held a goodbye party in a pub on Monday night were dismissed by a police source.

 

One retired senior officer said such information had to be treated carefully. "You have to ask how good is the information that he was seen drinking in pubs? There is always a folklore that surrounds these types of people with others claiming to have seen them."

 

He said there was no doubt that the manhunt had been intensive and active. "They will have had intensive coverage of the suspect," said the officer. "They will have used surveillance, looked at his phones, used informants and done all sorts of things including using the reward to draw people out.

 

"What is certain is that the police were hunting him; they weren't sitting about saying 'let's just wait until he turns up'. They were actively looking for him.

 

"But if someone in the community has a network that is willing to make him disappear often it's quite hard to find the individual."

 

Carl Fellstrom, a journalist and the author of Hoods, the story of the Nottingham-based organised crime family the Gunns, said behind any wall of silence was fear and a failure of trust between the police and the community. It is a double-edged thing," he said. "People are not only fearful – they also don't trust the police with the information. They are not perceived to be part of the community."

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