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Posthumous Sovereign's Awards for Police Gallantry


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Read "Honouring Fallen Heroes" - Article February 2009


Background and History of Police Gallantry Awards 1909-2009

On 6 January 2009, the London Gazette announced the posthumous award of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal to Detective Constable Stephen Oake, Greater Manchester Police. Remarkably this came six years after he was stabbed to death attempting to arrest an armed terrorist suspect attacking his colleagues and only after a campaign to have his bravery recognised.

 

The posthumous award, in January 2007, of the Queen's Gallantry Medal to Detective Constable Michael Swindells, of West Midlands Police, killed attempting the arrest of a deranged knifeman in 2004, was the first posthumous gallantry award to police for more than 10 years.

 

Whilst it was 90 years since there was previously such a gap, posthumous gallantry awards to the police have always been rare. In the 100 years since the first police gallantry medal was instituted in 1909 there have been a total of only 70 posthumous awards: 2 Crosses, 41 medals and 27 commendations, made to members of United Kingdom police forces, arising out of 64 incidents.

 

The first and only Royal Warranted UK police medal for acts of bravery was introduced in 1909 after the ‘Tottenham Outrage’ where a constable and small boy were shot and killed and 25 others injured. As a result of representations from Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Edward Henry, the King’s Police Medal (KPM) was instituted by King Edward V11 on 7 July 1909.

 

The medal was awarded for gallantry or for distinguished service and the first gallantry awards went to three of the ‘Tottenham Outrage’ officers; curiously there was no award for the murdered officer although posthumous awards began the following year. Between 1909 and 1978 a total of 721 medals and 5 bars were awarded for Gallantry. On 20 August 1940, due to the Blitz, it became the Kings Police and Fire Services Medal (KPFSM).

 

Heroism in Civil Defence also saw the institution of several civilian bravery awards for which police were eligible: in 1939 the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct, for acts which would otherwise not be recognised, was instituted; this became the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct in 1954 and in August 1994 was renamed the Queen's Commendation for Bravery.

 

On 24 September 1940, the George Cross (GC), for acts of gallantry of the greatest heroism, and the George Medal (GM), not then a posthumous award, for gallantry of an extremely high order, were instituted. The George Cross is the highest civilian bravery award (equivalent to the military Victoria Cross) and is rarely awarded. Only eight have gone to individual members of UK Police Forces, two posthumously, the last over 30 years ago to a Metropolitan Police Explosives Officer killed in 1975. In November 1999 for the first and only time, a police force was honoured with the award “...to recognise the collective courage and dedication to duty of all of those who have served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary."

 

In 1951 due to the introduction of the George Medal it was ordered that the KPFSM (and subsequent QPM) for Gallantry would only be awarded posthumously (as an equivalent to the George Medal which was not available posthumously). There was only one such award before 1954 when  separate Fire and Police awards instituted on 19 May 1954 saw it renamed the Queen's Police Medal (QPM); since then there have only been 18 Gallantry awards.

 

On 20 June 1974 the Queen’s Gallantry Medal (QGM) was instituted for bravery of a high order but below the standard for an award of the George Medal.

 

In November 1977 it was made possible for the George Medal to be awarded posthumously in effect making the ‘equivalent’ QPM for Gallantry finally redundant; the last medal had been awarded posthumously in June 1976 to a constable shot dead off duty in 1975.

 

Since 1977 there has been no posthumous award of the George Medal to a police officer but one to a police explosives officer in 1981, while there have been 9 posthumous QGM awards and 12 posthumous Queen’s Commendations.

 

Qualification for Awards:

 

A Home Office Circular in 1997 gave detailed advice and guidance to Chief Officers of Police considering nominations for a gallantry award including the following:

 

Gallantry awards are made in recognition of specific acts of bravery by individuals in:

  • Saving, or attempting to save a life
  • The prevention of crime
  • The arrest of dangerous criminals

There are currently four levels of awards available to the police service, all of which may be granted posthumously; in order of precedence: -

  • The George Cross: granted only for acts of gallantry of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger. The standard set for the George Cross should reflect a similar degree of heroism to the equivalent military award of the Victoria Cross.
  • The George Medal: granted for gallantry of an extremely high order, where the act was one of great bravery.
  • The Queen's Gallantry Medal: granted for gallantry of a high order, where the act was one of exemplary bravery.
  • The Queen's Commendation for Bravery: granted for gallantry not up to the standards described above, but entailing risk to life and meriting national recognition.

Factors that should be taken into account include:

Degree of the risk of death

  • George Cross                    over 90%
  • George medal                    50-90%
  • Queen's Gallantry Medal    20-50%
  • Queen's Commendation     below 20%

This is a guide only to be used in conjunction with other factors, detailed in the circluar, such as:

  • a knowledge or awareness of danger,
  • preparedness, persistence,
  • third party protection,
  • saving life,
  • injury
  • physical surroundings.
     

Number of Posthumous Awards Granted by Type:

2   George Cross (Instituted 1940)

1   George Medal (Instituted 1940, posthumous awards available since 1977)

31 King’s / Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry (Instituted 1909, posthumous awards not available after 1977)

9  Queen’s Gallantry Medal (Instituted 1974)

27 King’s / Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct (Instituted 1939)

 

Number of Posthumous Awards Granted by Period:

1910 - 1939 = 10

1940 - 1969 = 23 (13 during war)

1970 - 1999 = 34 (8 to RUC)

2000 - 2009 = 3

 


The London Gazette - Citations

Details of all the Sovereign's Honours and Awards are published by Authority in The London Gazette, the official newspaper of record in the United Kingdom (There are also Belfast and Edinburgh editions). Many, but not all, of the records contain citations outlining the circumstances leading to the award. If other officers received different awards, these may appear in a different location, or edition, and the higher awards only may attract a full citation.

All editions of the Gazette may be search online via their own website; the dates shown on the Roll are the actual award date, as awards are often published in Supplements to the Gazette, you may need to search dates up to a week prior to this.

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Read "Honouring Fallen Heroes" - 'Police' article February 2009


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Page updated 27 March 2012

Police Roll of Honour Copyright © Anthony Rae 1985-2012

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