The Prince of Wales paid tribute to the “valour and sacrifice” of police officers and staff as a national memorial was dedicated to those who have “laid down their lives to keep us safe.”
Standing in the shadow of the new UK Police Memorial, Charles expressed thanks on behalf of the country to the men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect the nation.
He unveiled a plaque at the monument, which commemorates almost 5,000 police officers and staff who have died on duty – 1,500 from acts of violence – since half-brothers Henry and John Fielding established the Bow Street Runners in 1749.
Families of police officers who have been killed on duty were among the invited guests, as was Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, chief constables from forces across the country, and representatives from policing charities.
Charles told the invited guests during the ceremony: “To those of you with personal experience of the sudden, unexpected and tragic loss of someone in the police service, whether you are here today, viewing from home, or attending one of the many services within your constabularies, I can only offer the assurance of my most heartfelt thoughts and prayers.
“On behalf of the nation, I would particularly like to express my profound gratitude for the valour and sacrifice of those who have laid down their lives to keep us safe, to remember their families who mourn, and to recognise those who continue to serve in order to safeguard our freedoms.
“Whilst our expressions of appreciation will always be hopelessly inadequate and, unfortunately, make the anguish no easier to bear, I do pray that this memorial will not only provide a hallowed place for us all to pay tribute to each of them, but also the reassurance that those who have given their lives so selflessly will leave a lasting legacy and will never be forgotten.”
Prince Charles speaks at the unveiling of the memorial
A minute’s silence was held to remember all those from the police service who have died in the line of duty and Charles then led a wreath-laying ceremony, followed by the prime minister and home secretary.
In a pre-recorded video message, the prime minister said: “It takes a very special kind of person to be a police officer. When you pull that uniform, each day, you have little idea of what’s going to be asked of you, what dangers, you might face.
“All you know for sure is that anything could happen, and that there’s a chance, however small that you won’t be going home to your loved ones at the end of your shift. Yet every day, you’d go out and serve the public all the same.”
He added: “No words can adequately do justice to the debt we as a nation owe your fallen colleagues, but I trust that this magnificent memorial in pride of place at the National Arboretum demonstrates the scale of our gratitude for their service, and that it will stand for centuries as a fitting tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the men and women who together form the finest police force in the world.”
Gillian Wombwell lost her police officer husband in August 1966, when he was shot, and has been dealing with the grief ever since.
She told ITV News the memorial is long overdue.
"I feel we’ve been desperately lacking a memorial," she said.
"It is the police force. There’s an air force memorial, there’s a naval force memorial, there’s an armed force memorial. Why not a police memorial?
"So, yes, it’s been a long time coming. But having said that, it was worth the wait, it’s beautiful, it’s magnificent."
'At that time, it was unheard of for something like that to happen': Gillian Wellwomb recalls the 'national shock' in the aftermath of her husband's death
Her husband, David, was killed at a time nobody expected police officers to come to harm, she added.
"At that time, it was unheard of for something like that to happen - to such a degree that one of my eldest sisters living in Detroit, Michigan (United States) heard about it on the news," she said.
"That’s how unheard of it was. It was almost like a national shock. Newspapers, television, I mean the funeral was something out of royalty almost.
"Policemen really didn’t expect to get harmed, other than perhaps a knock on the back of the head, but not guns, not knives."
The new open-air memorial has been designed by Walter Jack and includes two low screens bearing the names of 2,000 police officers and staff, as well as spaces for reflection.
“We went out and we met with police officers and staff and crucially with bereaved families, from that came an idea,” he told ITV News.
He explained how the screen with “gilded apertures” will allow light to go through, representing absence and loss.
And leaf-shaped pieces of brass left over may well be inscribed and given out around the country, including to police constabularies.
Walter Jack explains the thinking behind the memorial's design
Sir Hugh Orde, former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and chairman of the Police Arboretum Memorial Trust, said: “This memorial is an important symbol of the past, the present and the future.
“For the past, it places a marker that someone’s life mattered and they are honoured for what they gave. To say, albeit always imperfectly, to their loved ones, ‘Thank you, we recognise your loss and are here for you’.
“For the present, they remind us all, of the courage, commitment, resolve and dedication of police officers and staff to serve their calling day by day.
"Recognising that sometimes duty takes them to dangerous places, crossing a threshold – as this memorial represents – unsure of what lies beyond and where they place themselves in ‘harm’s way’, sadly sometimes with a costly loyalty.
“And, for the future, the inspiration for others to put themselves forward to join the police service, to serve our communities and protect us from harm.”