Memorial to fallen police officers unveiled by Prince Charles

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The Prince of Wales has unveiled a memorial to police officers who have died in the line of duty.

His Royal Highness then spent half an hour chatting to their bereaved families at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

During a dedication ceremony, he said: "On behalf of the nation, I would particularly like to express my profound gratitude for the valour and sacrifice of those who have laid down their lives to keep us safe, to remember their families who mourn, and to recognise those who continue to serve in order to safeguard our freedoms.

"Whilst our expressions of appreciation will always be hopelessly inadequate and, unfortunately, make the anguish no easier to bear, I do pray that this memorial will not only provide a hallowed place for us all to pay tribute to each of them, but also the reassurance that those who have given their lives so selflessly will leave a lasting legacy and will never be forgotten."

The 12-metre high brass structure is designed as "an open door at the start of a journey". It is dotted with leaf-shaped holes and cost £4m.

Prince Charles told his audience: "To those of you with personal experience of the sudden, unexpected and tragic loss of someone in the police service, whether you are here today, viewing from home or attending one of the many services within your constabularies, I can only offer the assurance of my most heartfelt thoughts and prayers."

Opera singer Katherine Jenkins sang I Vow To Thee My Country, while the British Police Symphony Orchestra played Elgar's Nimrod and the more modern You Raise Me Up.

The Prince of Wales was joined for the ceremony by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel.

The simple but stunning memorial pays tribute to the sacrifices made by men and women whose job is to protect the public.

Since the Bow Street Runners became the face of modern policing in 1749, nearly 5,000 officers and staff have died doing their job - 1,500 of them killed in violent acts.

One of them was Nina MacKay, 25, stabbed as she led colleagues into an East London flat to arrest a man for a breach of his bail conditions in 1997.

Over seven years, an original government donation of £1m towards the UK Police Memorial was followed by money from private companies, then police services, the public and anonymous benefactors.

Nina's father Sid MacKay, a retired chief superintendent, helped to raise funds. He said: "The police are seen by central government and the public as the less glamorous element in the country's security compared with the military which is readily recognised for the work they do.

"The toll on police officers is just as grim and always has been. The names of individual officers who die do register at the time, but as time passes they get forgotten and become a cumulative statistic.

"It is essential that there is a memorial to the police service where families and their relatives and the general public can go and contemplate the sacrifices that are made."

Mr MacKay added: "These days we are all too ready to find the failings in policing and less able to appreciate the service provided by officers on a daily basis. I think Nina would be very proud to know that at long last the memorial has been established."

Gillian Wombwell, whose detective husband David was one of three officers shot dead in west London in the summer of 1966, was astonished at her first sight of the towering memorial.

She said: "It is just magnificent and epitomises what the police stand for. It's big and strong with no frills or trimmings. And when the sunlight shines through the leaf holes, it throws patterns on the ground that look like teardrops which is very apt."

David Wombwell, 25, was killed with colleagues PC Geoffrey Fox and Detective Sgt Christopher Head after they approached three men parked in a car near Wormwood Scrubs prison.

His widow said: "I'm not sure many police officers are really aware of the risks. I wasn't and in 1966 London wasn't a particularly safe place. It didn't occur to me that David would ever be harmed.

"I don't think David would have walked across to that car and said 'excuse me, what are you doing here' if he thought at any time that he was going to get shot."

The Police Arboretum Memorial Trust said fundraising will continue, to provide a digital memorial and education facilities for students.

Former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, chair of the trust, said: "As a nation, we owe all those who have laid down their lives to keep us safe and protect us from harm a huge debt of gratitude. This memorial will ensure that the memory of those officers and staff who have died lives on in perpetuity."

Towards the end of the ceremony the sun came out. At that point, the memorial did indeed throw a pattern of teardrops on the ground beneath it.

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