Three weeks ago, I was introducing the new Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police to the public in a live broadcast from our Devizes HQ.
It was Kier Pritchard’s first day in the job and we had agreed with BBC Wiltshire that it could present its morning show from the Crime and Communications Centre (CCC) to give listeners a flavour of some of the services provided by Wiltshire Police and my office.
We had just come out of three days of “The Beast from the East” and my expectation over the weekend was that the discussion on the radio would focus on the way police and partner agencies had dealt with the snow and how, in particular, our staff had been able to work from home or other locations using the laptops and smart phones in which I had invested.
As Kier and I came off air at 10am the room we had been using was quickly transformed into an incident room as the scale of the terrible events in Salisbury became clearer.
In the days and weeks that followed, our Force – among the smallest and lowest funded in the country - faced what was surely one of the biggest challenges in its long history.
I have made several visits to Salisbury since then.
There were formal occasions such as meeting the Prime Minister and Home Secretary and informal chats with
Officers, staff and volunteers on the ground, including colleagues from elsewhere who gave extensive support to Wiltshire.
Our Force had been seeking volunteers to ensure that officers guarding the various sites were provided with food and hot drinks on some bitterly cold days and nights. I can vouch for the weather conditions on the Saturday night “welfare run”.
There has been considerable local support for the officers from cafes, restaurants and other shops in the city.
I am full of admiration for the officers, staff and volunteers from Wiltshire and colleagues from the other forces who put their personal lives on hold while this extraordinary investigation continued. Praise must also go to everyone involved in the welfare effort.
Hundreds of specialist officers, including forensic experts and intelligence officers, have been deployed, working around the clock. This remains a major investigation led by the Counter Terrorism Policing Network, into an attempted murder by the administration of a nerve agent.
Devizes HQ became the centre for the national investigation team.
I was pleased that Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the national lead for counter terrorism at Scotland Yard, sought me out in Salisbury to pay tribute to the Force.
He later sent me a copy of a letter he had written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council in which he said: “The scale of the police response to this incident has been vast and would stretch normal resource levels in many forces across the country.
“As a small force, Wiltshire Police has demonstrated to a global audience its ability to ‘stand up’ at a time of crisis. This is a testament to all the officers and staff employed by the Force.”
For Kier and our new Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, these past weeks have been a baptism of fire. They have performed admirably and I would like to fully endorse this comment by Assistant Commissioner Basu: “I have been impressed by their professionalism, commitment and leadership throughout this intensive period which is a credit to themselves and Wiltshire Police”.
A recovery programme for Salisbury is now getting underway, led by Wiltshire Council. I shall be among those attending a meeting of a Recovery Co-ordinating Group.
I fully support the “Salisbury is Open” campaign and the decision by Wiltshire Council to lift parking charges for the foreseeable future to attract shoppers and visitors to this beautiful city.
Amid the talk of recovery, we must not lose sight of the victims at the centre of this shocking attack: Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Sadly their condition in hospital is still described as critical.
Finally I would like to add my good wishes to DS Nick Bailey and his family as he continues to recover after being discharged from hospital.
Posted on Tuesday 27th March 2018