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article imageOp-Ed: David Rathband — The Spirit of the Blue Lamp

By Alexander Baron     Mar 1, 2012 in Crime
Blyth - In July 2010, Raoul Moat killed two people, a man he'd never met, and himself. Today, he claimed a third victim, the police officer he shot and blinded after the first killing.
The background to the crimes of Raoul Moat can be found here. One of the biggest myths peddled by the police is that they put their lives on the line every time they set foot outside their front doors. The reality is that you as a member of the public are far more likely to be injured or even killed by a police officer than vice versa. That being said, there are times when the police really do put their lives on the line.
Croydon may have been in the news recently on account of the widespread national rioting that followed the shooting dead of Mark Duggan, but in November 1952, PC Sidney Miles was shot dead on a Croydon rooftop by 16 year old Christopher Craig. The case attracted notoriety because at that time murder was capital, and while Craig was too young to hang, his half-wit accomplice Derek Bentley was not, and did.
In what is arguably the most notorious police killing on record in Britain, three plainclothes officers were gunned down in West London on August 12, 1966: PC Geoffrey Fox, Detective Sergeant Christopher Head and Temporary Detective Constable David Wombwell.
Three men were convicted of the Braybrook Street Massacre: Harry Roberts, John Duddy and their driver John Witney. Duddy died in prison in 1981; Witney is also dead, but unlike Mumia Abu-Jamal who spent close to thirty years in a windowless room for murdering one police officer, Roberts was eventually moved to an open prison, in 2001, and was actually briefly allowed out on day release, but he blotted his copybook and will now almost certainly die behind bars.
The case that most resembles that of David Rathband though is that of PC Philip Olds. In 1980, PC Olds was shot by an armed robber in Hayes, West London. He was left in a wheelchair, paralysed for life, and committed suicide in 1986.
Sudden disability, like trauma, affects different people in different ways. Trauma and disability can be a fatal combination. Some, like Superman actor Christopher Reeve, cope incredibly well. In May 1995, he was left paralysed from the neck down after falling from a horse. He died in October 2004. For a while it looked as though David Rathband was going down the Superman route. He set up the Blue Lamp Foundation in October 2010, and indeed the idea came to him before he was well enough to leave hospital. Reeve too set up a foundation. There were signs though that Rathband was going the same way as PC Olds. In August last year he was arrested on suspicion of assault. Shortly after that, his wife of 20 years told him she wanted a divorce. Join up the dots.
The significance of the allusion to a blue lamp may not be obvious to the average browser. The blue lamp is or was a symbol of the British police. In the days before mobile phones, it could be found on top of a police box. Fans of a certain time traveller will have no difficulty recognising it.
A police box  as once used by your local plod. And by Dr Who next year!
A police box, as once used by your local plod. And by Dr Who next year!
Creative Commons
The Blue Lamp is also the title of a low budget 1950 crime film. In one scene, PC George Dixon played by Jack Warner is shot and killed by a robber. The character of PC Dixon was resurrected for a realistic BBC drama Dixon Of Dock Green that ran from 1955 to 1976. Dixon, who was again played by Jack Warner, would introduce and conclude each episode, giving a rather quaint salute at the end.
The original theme music for the series was Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner, but this was replaced with an instrumental theme composed by Jeff Darnell. Later, Warner added lyrics to it and recorded it as a one-off single, An Ordinary Copper. The old style British copper although not exactly avuncular was very different from the politically correct type today, and many a young tearaway received the proverbial thick ear off one.
The character Warner portrayed was just that, an ordinary copper with no great ambitions except perhaps for his kids, plodding along and doing his best. David Rathband was in many ways a latter day Dixon. Although he drove a car rather than pounded the beat he was in his 40s, still a constable and probably having no desire to take promotion, doing his best, which would have involved routine motor stops such as occasionally lead to bigger things. The serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper wasn't caught by detectives but by a routine police patrol as he sat in his car with a prostitute. The vehicle had been fitted with false number plates. It didn't take the arresting officers long to realise they had caught a far bigger fish than a married man doing something that would be of more interest to his wife than the local magistrate.
David Rathband does not appear to have made any spectacular arrests in his career, and unlike George Dixon, he wasn't cut down in the line of duty, although the tone of the press coverage, that Raoul Moat had claimed another victim, is difficult to fault.
He has though left a legacy which will help and hopefully inspire others to do what he and Philip Olds couldn't: come to terms with a chronic and life changing disability such as paralysis or blindness, and to realise that however restrictive and debilitating such a shattered life may be, it is ultimately better than none at all.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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