They’re the murders which shocked a nation, prompted a change in the law and resulted in a public outpouring of grief.
Two female Greater Manchester Police officers, executed in cold blood by Dale Cregan, who admitted the killings two weeks into his trial.
He was today found not guilty of the attempted murder of Sharon Hark – the final remaining charge against him – but he will never be released from jail.
Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Sir Peter Fahy orchestrated the manhunt for Cregan who killed the officers while on the run for the murders of a father and son.
In the wake of the jury’s verdict on Cregan and nine other defendants, Sir Peter can finally speak out on the atrocities which ultimately resulted in the sick gun and grenade murders of two innocent women.
“This is about two criminal families with a long history of rivalry and almost bizarrely started with an argument between a man and a woman in a pub one night,” he said, when discussing the chronology from the first murders of David and Mark Short, to the killings of PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone last year.
“It then pretty quickly escalates into a man coming to the door of a pub and firing seven shots into a pub and killing Mark Short, which in itself was a horrendous crime.
“It sadly was like something out of the worst days in Northern Ireland, somebody turning up and just shooting into a pub and the degree of planning that went into that, in terms of covering their tracks and the conspiracy and it did require a very complex investigation to try and identify the people responsible.”
Cregan then went on the run before committing his second murder – gunning down Mark’s father David, in August last year.
“Again in cold blood, again in execution and involving the use of a grenade,” Sir Peter added.
“Despite what was a huge manhunt to try and locate Cregan he was then protected by another criminal conspiracy, which sadly then resulted in the death of our two officers.”
Sir Peter said Cregan, who denied the murders of the Shorts until the 53rd day of his trial despite the prosecution referring to his guilt as ‘the worst kept secret in Strangeways’, became reckless in what he was doing.
He left DNA evidence at the scene in the ferocious attacks, and, perhaps most sickeningly of all, left his ‘calling card’ – a grenade – which shocked the public and police force to the core.
SICKENING: Grenades used by Cregan which were recovered by police
Sir Peter said: “The feature there was the use of hand grenades which we believe, were obtained from a war zone in Eastern Europe.
“Again, very extreme and unusual events. It’s unknown for grenades to be used on the mainland in that way and that obviously created a huge challenge for us.”
Sir Peter admitted that before the first murder in The Cotton tree pub in Droylsden last year, the families involved in the shooting – the Shorts and the Atkinsons – were known to police.
However, Leon Atkinson was today found not guilty of the murder of Mark Short and the attempted murder of three other men in the pub at the same time.
But when pressed on whether the executions of the two female police officers could have been prevented, with intelligence gathered before The Cotton Tree murder and the ensuing manhunt, Sir Peter says there is nothing more the force could do.
He said: “No, it was a huge operation that we put underway, we carried out a huge number of warrants to try to find Cregan, we had huge amounts of intelligence and huge support from the public.
“We were using the most complex investigative techniques from the most experienced detectives nationally.
“It was absolutely devastating when despite all that huge effort during that time, working very long hours, for it then to result to result in the death of two of our officers.
“It was then traumatic for everybody but particularly for the officers who had been working so desperately to try and find Cregan.”
Sir Peter said it was a very extreme event for officers to be lured to their deaths in the way they were, and no-one could have anticipated it.
MURDERED: Greater Manchester Police officers Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes
“For somebody to use the degree of violence that Cregan used, the number of shots he discharged at our two officers, the fact that it was an execution, the fact the officers bravely tried to protect themselves… We couldn’t have anticipated it,” he said.
“We know that Fiona drew her Taser in an attempt to try and still arrest Cregan but he then brutally fired so many shots into both Fiona and Nicola, so it was an incredibly extreme event for this country.”
But despite all of this, Sir Peter is still an advocate of keeping Greater Manchester Police unarmed, when arguments have been put forward on the potentially catastrophic consequences of sending unarmed officers to call-outs.
He also maintains that the violence which Cregan showed should not in any way be glamourised, as certain characters aspire to be held up as ‘folk heroes’ and are able to rule through intimidation.
“It is really important that we don’t in any way glamorise organised crime. It is important that we don’t glamorise the supposed mafia and the supposed underworld because the reality of it is very, very brutal and very violent.
“What comes across very strongly is, not only do the public not want that but individual police officers don’t want that, so survey shows police officers themselves do not want to be routinely armed, but on the other hand, they want to know that there are colleagues around who have that extra expertise that is readily available,” he said.
“Police forces are regularly criticised for the mistakes that we make but I think what showed, beyond that, British people have a huge respect for their police force and take very seriously the fact that they have a routinely unarmed police force and that is something really important to hold on to.
“I think when police officers are killed on duty, it’s seen as an attack on all of us, it’s seen as an attack on democracy, it’s seen as an attack on our tradition of having an unarmed police service.
“What came across is, whatever people may feel about policing in general they have a huge respect and understanding for the challenges that individual police officers face when they’re going out investigating crime and when they’re dealing with difficult situations, emotional situations and violent situations.
“The public understand that.
“There’s no question this has been the worst event in the history of the force.”