During the five-month hearing, Lady Justice Hallett, the coroner, heard complaints from police officers and firemen that health and safety legislation stopped them from carrying out their duties. In her ruling, Lady Hallett said that she felt the emergency services could be more flexible in their use of the protocols.
“The last thing we should ever do is make the families of people who have a go, be they cops or public, feel they made the wrong choices. Let’s not pretend that the police work in a risk-free environment.”
Referring to the legislation, which can see officers charged with criminal offences if breached, Sir Paul says: “I want my cops as safe as possible but it is a dynamic job they do. They face risks. When health and safety legislation was first applied to the police in its raw form, I wondered whether it was entirely appropriate for emergency services.”
One police officer told the coroner that colleagues were setting up cordons rather than helping injured passengers. Pc Glen Hesketh said he and fellow officers were not “paid to be wrapped up in cotton wool”. “When I joined in the 80s they said our priority was to save life.”
The coroner was also told that the first firemen on the scene at King’s Cross had to stand by and watch injured passengers emerging because they were not allowed to enter the tunnels until a back-up crew arrived.
Sir Paul adds: “Health and safety is important for my staff but they engage in the risk business. Cops join the force knowing they have to put their life on the line. Thankfully very few pay the ultimate price. Some get injured. They take risks … running across rooftops catching villains. I applaud them for doing that. I don’t want to criticise them or to be doing a risk assessment on every occasion.
It was, of course, insane, that anyone ever thought they were or even could be working in a risk free environment.
I dimly remember a story of a couple of PCSOs not wading into a pond to save a drowning boy as it was \”too dangerous\” don\’t I?
Unfortunately, insanity in government can be persistent.
And it\’s not just police entangled in this nonsense either. Think of the precautionary principle. In its weak form, entirely sensible, don\’t do something until you\’ve sketched out what might go wrong with it. Test your home made wings from 3 feet not start straight at 300 feet for example.
But when applied in its strong form it stops any kind of advance at all: for the universe is nasty like that, you\’ve got to try something before you can actually understand the risks. So if we can\’t plant a couple of fields of GM and look and see how they influence the surrounding crops we can never find out whether they do influence the surrounding crops and thus work out whether they\’re safe enough or not.
In this wider form, the precautionary principle, this elf\’n\’safety obsession, is like the conservative standing athwart the passage of history and shouting \”stop!\”.
Life\’s risky and we have to take risks to advance it: or save it, as the case may be.