The police in the firing line

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POLICE officers in Yorkshire do not need any lectures about the threat that firearms pose to their safety. They still mourn Ian Broadhurst and Sharon Beshenivsky, two fine constables who paid the ultimate price while fulfilling their public responsibilities.

This region's forces were also among those who joined the manhunt for crazed killer Raoul Moat after he shot an officer in Newcastle – and they backed up their colleagues in Cumbria when gunman Derrick Bird murdered 12 people in a massacre of the innocents.

These incidents provide the backdrop to the scenario that confronted police in Huddersfield when a seemingly routine incident – a man had allegedly made threats to a neighbour – escalated into an armed siege with officers repeatedly coming under fire before they shot, and killed, their suspect Alistair Bell.

Ironically, the shooting happened a short distance away from the location where two West Yorkshire officers were killed in 1951.

It would, of course, be wrong to pre-judge the precise chain of events –this is a matter for the IPCC – but it should be noted that the police go to great lengths to end such sieges peacefully.

What is more perturbing, however, is how their suspect – described by neighbours as a "loner" with a history of drug use – acquired a firearm when so many rules govern gun licences and such like.

This question is key to the inquiries now underway and demonstrates, once again, that the current checks are of limited value if weapons fall into the hands of those intent on killing, or maiming, the police and others.

Equally, this incident is a tragic reminder of the dangers that confront police every day – this siege was made even more challenging because it took place in total darkness in a residential area – and why it would be regrettable if it led to patrol officers being routinely armed in the future.

Britain's police are, in many respects, the envy of the world because beat officers do not carry guns and it can only be hoped that the deranged actions of a small number of criminals does not jeopardise this proud and important tradition.