Greater Manchester Police Focus: Our response to a tragedy

GMP's comms chief tells John Owens how the force handled the murder of two officers last month.

Amanda Coleman, GMP
Amanda Coleman, GMP

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) was already conducting a manhunt for Dale Cregan when he was arrested last month for a fatal gun and grenade attack on its officers Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes. In the middle of the resulting media storm was GMP's corporate comms director Amanda Coleman. She took PRWeek through her team's response to the tragedy as it unfolded ...

11am

As part of our usual routine, we were checking through the incident logs to update the media. A colleague shouted over to me, and looking at the report we knew something major had happened. Dale Cregan had been arrested, so our first emotion was happiness. But this obviously changed very quickly when we realised two officers had been attacked.

11.30am

It was a very confusing picture for half an hour. Very early on we were being contacted by people on the phones and through social media to say they had heard gunshots. We responded, saying we were investigating. Within the hour it was clear the officers had died. We knew it was important to get everything confirmed and out there as soon as possible so we called a press conference. At the same time, our major priority was to contact the two families affected, so they didn't feel events were just playing out in the media in front of them.

1pm

A very senior officer - assistant chief constable Garry Shewan - held the press conference. We knew it was right to escalate it to that level because of the press focus that was going to come. We gave as clear a position as possible on the fact that two officers had died, although there was little extra we could confirm at that point.

In this situation you have people at an organisation who have lost a colleague, so our drive to get information out as quickly as possible applied internally too. As well as an operational briefing system and personal and web-based support, this extended to the press conferences, which were recorded for internal use so that staff could see what was going out.

Rest of the day

As well as dealing with the press both at the press conference station and at the site of the attack, we decided to hold another press conference. This time it was with chief constable Sir Peter Fahy and provided more detail around the incident and arrest than we would normally go into. We knew we had to put the details out there because of the intense media focus. If we hadn't been as transparent, the media would have started trying to find out what happened themselves. We had also already run a high profile campaign on Cregan. The strong social media response from the affected community prompted us to put up a book of condolence on our website.

The following weeks

It very quickly became about personalising the two officers, and showing that these were two people with lives and families. Overall, the media have been very fair. It has been non-stop since the incident. The police are like a big family, so it was felt far beyond Manchester. We had a minute's silence the next day, and part of the work was about communicating with other forces who wanted to pay tribute from as far away as Canada and New Zealand. In terms of media coverage for the funeral, we stuck with the wishes of the families. For Nicola, her funeral was relayed outside on video, and for Fiona, we had audio but no images.

A hashtag - #coverforgmp - was launched by an unknown individual on Twitter, prompting police from elsewhere to help cover shifts as colleagues attended the funerals.

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