The North’s police chief paid a moving personal tribute today to the police constable shot dead by dissident republicans and promised his widow that he would never be forgotten.
In an emotional and unscheduled address to mourners near the end of the funeral service for Pc Stephen Carroll, Chief Constable Hugh Orde pledged: “He will not be forgotten, Kate, I promise you that.
“My staff and my officers will not forget what he did. I know the community will not forget what he did.”
He said messages had come in from the global police family, and they too would not forget the first officer from the Police Service of Northern Ireland to be murdered in 12 years.
Pc Carroll, 48, was shot dead by the Continuity IRA on Monday night while answering a call to a distressed mother of two who had a brick thrown through the window of her house in Craigavon, Co Armagh.
Mr Orde told mourners at St Therese’s Catholic church in Pc Carroll’s home town of Banbridge, Co Down that he and his colleagues had ignored danger to themselves to get to the aid of the young mother.
He said he had seen the message calling for assistance on the operations screen at police headquarters in Belfast.
“It was so incredibly important. It was a message calling for help from a member of the public and her children and the first people she looked to was the police service,” he said.
“The bottom line is he knew in his heart of hearts, and his colleagues knew in their hearts, that they were going to a place where sometimes people try to hurt us.
“Did he step back? No. Did any of his colleagues step back? No. They went and they dealt with the call. Stephen tragically lost his life.”
He described the members of the PSNI as ordinary men and women who did an extraordinary job, displaying a willingness, bravery and commitment to serving the community – they were desperately proud to deliver.
Banbridge came to a standstill for the funeral with shops in the town centre closing their doors as a mark of respect as the funeral cortege passed by with a lone piper at its head.
Hundreds followed the coffin, thousands more lined the route or waited outside the church.
The public service was like no other seen in Northern Ireland. While the murder had united politicians in condemnation of the attempt to disrupt the peace process, the funeral saw them sitting together.
Sinn Féin’s leaders attended the funeral while the party’s Alex Maskey, MLA, sat beside Ulster Unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon – widow of the former Chief Constable Sir Jack Hermon.
Mr Maskey’s party colleague John O’Dowd – in whose Upper Bann constituency Stephen Carroll was murdered – said: “First of all, this is an act of solidarity and an act of sympathy with Pc Carroll’s family.
“It is also about giving leadership in relation to this issue and giving very public voice to the condemnation which the whole community feels.
“We have built a new society. Part of that was the building of the PSNI and Constable Carroll was part of that new society.”
Also paying his respects was long time foe of republicans, Jackie McDonald, recognised as the leader of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association.
He said: “We have come to show support for the Carroll family and to let everyone know that loyalism is against this sort of thing.”
He praised the North’s Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and other party colleagues for their forthright condemnation of the murder and that of two British soldiers 48 hours before.
He said: “They have been very brave. It is obviously a new language for them and I think they have reassured the loyalist community that this is not about Orange and Green, it is about those who support the peace process, it is about uniting everybody.”
All the political parties and churches were represented at the service attended by hundreds of police officers past and present.
Mr Orde was joined by the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and representatives of police forces and police organisations throughout Britain.
Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward was also present as well as Security Minister Paul Goggins and Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.
The only prominent people missing were First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who are in the US.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Dromore, the Most Rev John McAreavey, delivered a direct message to the killers and those who may support them. “You are greatly mistaken, your way of thinking is backward looking, the people of Ireland and Britain have chosen a better way forward, the way of reconciliation and accommodation.
“We are determined not to allow ourselves to be dragged back into the morass of hatred and violence.”
In his homily Canon Liam Stevenson said the murders of Pc Carroll and Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar had been designed to destabilise the peace process.
He said: “We certainly do not want to lose the peace. We will not lose the peace because so many people are so determined to move forward. The people have spoken so strongly since last Sunday in many cities and towns.”
At the end of a service, which ran for nearly two hours, Pc Carroll’s coffin was carried from the church, behind a lone piper playing Amazing Grace, on the shoulders of colleagues who later wept and hugged each other in grief.
Hugh Orde and Commissioner Murphy stood shoulder to shoulder behind the hearse and led the cortege through the town to the graveside.
Floral tributes around the coffin spelt out Son, Uncle and Brother.
Kate Carroll, who spoke so movingly on the eve of the funeral about her life being destroyed, left a bouquet with the message: “To the love of my life. I will never forget you. I love you now and always. Kate.”
Sapper Azimkar’s family sent a tribute with the message: “We know the pain you are suffering and all our thoughts are with you.”