Against a febrile backdrop of nationwide protests at police brutality, work has begun on the creation of a £4.5 million memorial to honour British officers killed in the line of duty.
The ceremonial breaking of the ground occurred on Friday at the site of the intended memorial in the West Midlands that will commemorate the more than 4,200 personnel who have lost their lives in service since the formation of the British police force in 1749.
The commencement of work comes at a time of particular tension between the police and members of the public during Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Statues, plaques and memorials across the country are being boarded up as a protective measure to prevent more from being toppled after a statue of Edward Colston, the 17th-century slave trader, was dragged down from its plinth and thrown into a river in Bristol on Sunday.
Supporters of the international human rights movement subsequently created an interactive map called Topple the Racists, as a hit list of memorials that should be taken down so that Britain could “finally face the truth about its past”.
At a demonstration in Glasgow on Sunday condemning the death of George Floyd, an African-American killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, protesters targeted the statue of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the modern police force in Britain. A campaign continues to have the statue removed.
The turning of the soil for the future police monument at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire was done by the fathers of constables Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, who were killed in Manchester in 2012 in a grenade and firearm attack while investigating a hoax burglary call.
PC Hughes's father, Bryn, described it as a proud and poignant day, adding that he was honoured to be taking part alongside PC Bone's father, Paul.
In a speech to mark the start of the project, Sir Hugh Orde, the chairman of the trustees of the Police Arboretum Memorial Trust, mentioned PC Keith Palmer, who was killed in a terrorist attack on parliament in 2017, and PC Andrew Harper, who was dragged behind a motor vehicle after responding to a burglary last year.
“It is vital that their sacrifices are never forgotten,” Sir Hugh said.
“This memorial will represent policing at its best and will honour all of those who have died in its service. It will complement the other policing memorials around the country just as the Cenotaph is complemented by local war memorials in towns and villages,” he added.
The Cenotaph, a war memorial in Whitehall, London, was also targeted by protesters in the past week and has, as with so many others, now been boarded up for its own protection.
The Conservative MP Michael Fabricant praised the start of work on the police memorial in his constituency in Staffordshire.
“The police do an amazing job - especially with all the childish vandalism being done in the name of anti-racism at the moment,” Mr Fabricant posted on Twitter.
Others on social media asked whether the memorial would also have to be boarded up once completed because of the ongoing protests, with at least one wondering “how long before the mob fell it?”. Another responded: “May as well not bother. It will be on the ‘list’ as soon as it is finished.”
There were those, too, who questioned why the police memorial had received government funding while promises to erect a monument in Hyde Park to the victims of slavery in Britain remain unfulfilled.
The ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, which began in the United States but have since spilt over across the globe, have ignited debates about discrimination and police brutality.
On Wednesday, Britain’s most senior ethnic minority police chief, Neil Basu, told his colleagues that it is time to “stand up to racism”.
Mr Basu, the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, voiced support for what he called the “legitimate anger” that had manifested on Britain’s streets in recent weeks.
However, police have also spoken out against assaults on officers, particularly after an attack on two colleagues in the London Borough of Hackney was recorded and shared on social media.
After four arrests related to the incident, Detective Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett said: “Attacking or assaulting police officers in London or anywhere else is completely unacceptable, will never be accepted in society’s eyes and must stop."
The open-air police memorial was designed by Walter Jack, will have space to accommodate 1,500 people, and is expected to be completed by spring next year.