Manchester mourns murdered PC Hughes

Thu, Oct 4, 2012, 01:00

Mourners told of the bravery of policewoman shot dead with another colleague responding to routine burglary report, writes MARK HENNESSYin Manchester

AS THE cortege passed Staples stationers shop on Deansgate, one of the police horses leading the funeral procession of Nicola Hughes shied in panic at the ripple of applause, slow at first, that honoured the fallen police constable.

Over the shop, a line of builders, hard-hats removed, leaned over scaffolding to watch the cortege make its way to Manchester Cathedral for the funeral service of the 23-year-old officer, who was shot down in Tameside last month along with her colleague Fiona Bone as they went to investigate a routine burglary report.

Inside the cathedral, 1,000 people, including the constable’s father and mother, Bryn and Sue, and brother Sam, waited, while hundreds more had gathered outside to honour a woman who had lost her life because of what her chief constable, Peter Fahy, called “an evil act”.

Her coffin, topped with flowers and her police hat, was carried slowly by fellow officers as the cathedral’s bells tolled. Displayed on the altar was a large photograph of a vivacious young woman dressed in her everyday clothes, rather than the uniformed image that had formed the public picture of her up until then.

The constable’s desk sergeant, Stephen Miskell, was but one of her Tameside colleagues who went to the lectern, holding back tears as he remembered the first night he checked her paperwork. “It was perfect. I asked her who had helped her with it. She indignantly replied, ‘No one!’”.

Because of her petite size, he said, she was perfect for lifting over high walls during searches, although she had “been thrown” when asked to search a tiny shed that was filled with spiders. “She didn’t like spiders,” said Sgt Miskell affectionately.

During a disturbance in a pub, PC Hughes, then just 20, and PC Bone had rushed to deal with “pandemonium”, he said. By the time other officers arrived, the two had “forced their way” between two violent factions and removed a badly injured man. “I looked at her face. There was no fear there,” he said.

“It’s rare to be a police officer at just 20, but she was very rare. She will be greatly missed by those who were fortunate enough to have known her. God bless you, Nicola,” he said, struggling, like others gathered in the cathedral, to maintain composure.

The congregation included Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton and former Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable Hugh Orde, who is now president of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

“Policing is a police family and there is a real desire for every officer from every force to pay their respects in the best way they could,” he said.

On nearby Market Street, a small orchestra of gypsies played My Way, popularised by Frank Sinatra, as Borussia Dortmund fans, in town for last night’s Champions’ League encounter with Manchester City, strolled in rare sunshine.

Back in the cathedral, the Hughes family mourned. Tomorrow, in the same pews, it will be the turn of PC Bone’s loved ones.