RUC officer’s brother pays tribute as UK remembers police lost in line of duty
Thousands of police officers who have died or been killed in the line of duty were honoured at the Waterfront Hall yesterday as Belfast hosted the annual National Police Memorial Day service.
And for one Northern Ireland family in particular, the poignant occasion took on a special significance. Michael Ferguson was only 21 when he was shot dead outside a shopping centre in Londonderry in January 1993.
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During the service his brother Joseph and sister Susan Ferguson O'Neill lit a candle in his memory in front of more than 2,000 relatives of fallen officers and former senior officers.
Also in attendance were Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Joseph, a former police officer, lit the candle alongside families representing England, Scotland and Wales, and said it was an honour to represent Northern Ireland at the service.
"My father Dan had been an officer and Michael wanted to follow in his footsteps," he explained.
"Michael loved being a police officer. He loved every part of it."
While responding to a report of shoplifting on a Saturday afternoon on Shipquay Streetmin Derry, Constable Ferguson, a Catholic from Omagh, was shot in the back of the head by a gunman.
Joseph said he still grieved for his brother.
"It's the empty seat, the missed birthday parties, the Christmas events that are the constant reminders of his absence," he said.
"I have kids myself and I wonder if Michael would have had a family.
"He was very much a family person.
"I miss him every day."
Sunday was the fourth time Belfast has hosted the annual event since it started in 2001 and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said he was delighted to welcome representatives from all over the UK to Belfast.
"This is a fitting tribute to police officers everywhere who have died in the course of their duties to protect the public," he said.
"It is important and only right that we take time to pause to remember our colleagues and friends who have given the ultimate sacrifice on duty protecting their communities.
"It is a privilege for the PSNI to have been able to welcome so many visitors to Belfast."
Mr Javid, who gave a reading at the service, said it was fitting that those who fell in the Greta War were also remembered.
"It was an honour to help pay tribute to the thousands of police officers and staff who have given their lives while serving and protecting us all, including those who died in the First World War," he said.
"This is an important and poignant reminder of the courage shown by the police each and every day."
The sermon was led by Dr Charles McMullen, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
"If it becomes a question of setting an example for others to follow, then I praise the professionalism, the standards and the sense of duty of our police forces throughout the United Kingdom," he said.
"But I single out the PSNI, which I believe to be exemplary, and the sacrifices made by its members and those of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC before it."
More than 4,400 police officers and civilian staff have died on duty in the UK where records exist.
Referencing them in the order of service, the Prince of Wales, who is patron of the National Police Memorial Day, wrote: "Today we pay tribute to the men and women who display enormous courage and professionalism as they work to safeguard communities throughout the United Kingdom.
"I would like to pay special tribute to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for their devoted service and courage in the face of many threats and challenges."
National Police Chaplain, Canon David Wilbraham, added: "Commitment, tenacity, bravery and integrity - all exercised with compassion and fairness - are the personal qualities that, together with professional skills, sustain the thin blue line. Front line personnel also serve with a willingness to put themselves in the place of danger and harm to protect and serve others. Sadly, each year some colleagues pay the ultimate price of that commitment."
There was silence in the auditorium as green, blue and red petals of remembrance descended from the gallery before the Last Post was sounded to mark a day of dignified reflection.
John Apter, chair of Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "I am proud to have served with truly outstanding officers who are now no longer with us, and to have accompanied family members to National Police Memorial Day over the years, seeing first-hand what this day means to families.
"I am privileged to be part of it."