Last Thursday, when a lone gunman murdered five people before turning the gun on himself, was Britain’s worst mass shooting in a decade. The fact that it happened here in Devon makes it all the more shocking.
We will never truly know what motivated someone to carry out such an atrocity, but it appears that he was under the influence of some of humanity’s darkest urges, encouraged by internet chat rooms where a warped view of the world pits men against women.
If though the appalling and tragic events that unfolded in Biddick Drive, Keyham, and in mass shooting incidents the world over, are an example of some of the worst behaviour that humanity has to offer, then Britain’s response is an example of people at their best.
My team and I were on the scene with our community engagement van the morning after the event. We took with us thousands of leaflets which had been printed specifically for Keyham residents by a local company that dropped everything to help. The leaflets gave details of how those traumatised and affected could get expert practical and emotional support, 24 hours a day. We were accompanied by Victim Support workers from the city who delivered them door to door in a community that was reeling from tragedy.
We spoke to people who saw the victims, saw their neighbours take great risks to comfort and help the injured, knew and loved those who are tragically no longer with us.
Trauma like that can last a lifetime, I will always remember that day, in that shocked community, I cannot imagine how those who were in those streets just hours earlier must be feeling.
As the person responsible for delivering victim care in Devon and Cornwall I know expert help delivered in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event can be hugely beneficial. That’s why I want to say a huge thank you to those volunteers who doubled or tripled the impact of our operation over the last few days. The children who put leaflets through their neighbours’ doors, the community social media group that shared the Victim Care contact details on a page followed by thousands of the area’s residents.
There were countless small acts of kindness – the woman who donated a packet of biscuits to the police team who were manning the cordon on an incident that will have shaken them to the core, the cups of tea made for volunteers and blue light staff.
We know that while generally very safe, there is an increasing and worrying problem with violence in this country and Devon and Cornwall are not immune from this trend. That is why, with funding from households across the force area, the Chief Constable and I set up the Serious Violence Prevention Programme a year ago.
Society has to find a way of reaching particularly young people and diverting them away from violence. Showing them that it is not the answer. We must find a way of tackling the influence of unwell people who mislead and encourage violence.
The police and partners have been seeking answers to some of these extraordinarily difficult questions for some time now. This incident has pushed these to the top of the local and national agendas and we must collectively redouble our efforts to find some answers.
In the immediate future though, my office will be working to help the people of Plymouth, and particularly Keyham, recover as best as they can. There will be a particular focus on the children who witnessed these horrific murders, with an expectation that there will be services specifically in place for them this week.
I will also be ensuring the Chief Constable has the resources to carry out a thorough investigation into what happened. We also need to explore any potential flaws in the country’s firearms licensing, and what recognition is required to a new emerging ideology of hatred to women that goes beyond misogyny.
All too often communities affected by such violence end up being defined by them. For me this won’t be the case in Keyham. It is the strength and compassion I saw first hand from this community that will stay with me forever.
If you have been affected by this incident or any other, free confidential help and advice is on offer from Victim Support, 24 hours a day on the phone at 0808 168 9111 or over webchat at www.victimsupport.org.uk.
Devon and Cornwall Police is encouraging people to come forward with information, and has set up an online platform to do so at mipp.police.uk/operation/50DC21E73-PO1.