The silence was broken only by the sound of the cathedral bell tolling. From the platform put in place for the media you could see a large section of Manchester city centre and its busiest street, Deansgate.
As officers, police staff and members of the public started to line the route of the funeral cortege it was an amazing sight. A sea of people bringing the city centre to a standstill in remembrance. To see insignia of City of London police, Heddlu, Cheshire Police, British Transport Police and officers from many forces side by side as they stood shoulder to shoulder was remarkable. I can never recall seeing anything remotely similar. And it came about because of the power of social media.
Admittedly, not all the many thousands of people lining Deansgate may use social media and some will have decided to take their place after hearing about the tragic events in the media. However, the work of one man in his blog became the birth of a movement to get as many officers and staff as possible to pay their respects to the two police officers Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes. That man, under the name Constable Chaos, start the hash-tag ’coverforgmp’ just days after the tragic events. From there it grew and grew until more than 5,000 people were taking part, pledging support, tweeting and sharing the message.
It was social media at its best. It brought people together in a shared experience where they helped to spread the word and showed how Twitter, Facebook and other channels can be a force for good. There was no plan and no format, it was something that developed organically and on that crisp October day I was seeing the outcome.
Many cast doubt on the pledges of support and thought it was easy for people to make promises on social media that they were never planning to keep. Who would have thought that police workers would travel from all across the country and from other countries around the world to pay their respects. What became quickly evident during the start of this week was that people were going to turn their words into action, which would surprise some.
As I stood watching the different uniforms and flourescent jackets line up, it was a real manifestation of the power and positive benefits that can come with social media. It is easy for people to criticise social media and cast doubt on what it can actually achieve beyond just being an outpouring of words. All those that took part on #coverforgmp and #operationdeansgate proved social media conversations can, and do, lead to action.
It was an amazing thing to witness and was something so positive at a time of great sadness. The images will remain in my memory for a long time as they will for many people who were able to be in Manchester this week or who saw the media images.
During the past couple of weeks I have been proud to be someone who uses social media and it has made me more determined to continue to encourage others to get involved. Above all the words on social media ensured a fitting tribute to PC Fiona Bone and PC Nicola Hughes on the streets of Manchester.