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Opinion: Proud Preston keeps calm and shops on

Posted on - 18th December, 2015 - 3:54pm | Author - | Posted in - Crime, News, Opinion, Preston City Centre
Outside the Fishergate Shopping Centre entrance on Thursday Pic: Tony Worrall

Outside the Fishergate Shopping Centre entrance on Thursday Pic: Tony Worrall

The run up to Christmas is a stressful time of year for most. A time filled with trying to buy presents, running errands and ensuring you’ve got everything in.

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On Thursday the city of Preston found one of its major shopping centres closed off – with blue flashing lights blocking all the usual routes and talk of an explosion. The sort of thing to rattle the nerves of many.

What was the response? A calmness, a willingness to listen and a ‘No problem’ muttered when asked to do things by the emergency services.

The Fishergate Shopping Centre was evacuated shortly after 9am after a crude explosive device was found in the mens toilet.

Why it was there and the motive behind why someone would try to do such a thing a week before Christmas, or at any point, is still to be determined.

But what we can draw from it is how proud Prestonians kept their heads, turned the other cheek and went about their business.

If the motive was to cause disruption, or far worse, it didn’t rattle this proud city.

And we must spare a moment to mention the response of the emergency services and shopping centre managers.

They risked being criticised for overreacting but they made the right judgement call. There could have been other devices. There were too many unknowns.

The first call should always be safety, and it certainly was safety first. But coupled with an explanation.

I saw officers on the ground and they didn’t try to confuse the situation. Just being straight up, here’s what’s happening and you need to go this way. Preston didn’t panic, it listened to the facts and made the right call all round.

Police services, and other authorities, are often afraid of releasing information but Preston Police were on the front foot. Regular updates, a willingness to brief the media – Blog Preston included – and also answering all kinds of queries as they realised the panic could set in if people thought they couldn’t get to their cars. Yes rumours spread quickly on social media, but the police made sure information was put out there quickly to make sure a vacuum didn’t build. We had a mobile phone in the face of the Chief Supt doing a live video interview, via Periscope, with hundreds of people logged on – what was James Lee’s response? ‘No problem’.

Fishergate Centre was open as usual on Friday morning. Save for a few police officers dotted about, which is normal for most busy shopping days, you wouldn’t have a clue that just 18 hours earlier the place was being given the once over by the bomb squad.

As Keith Mitchell, the manager of the centre, rightly points out “our staff have been tremendous and our customers have shown wonderful understanding and patience.”

And credit to the shopping centre too. It’s one of the most profitable times of year. Closing for a full day must have set them back a fair way. But security was their primary concern, and rightly so. You can have all the presents in the world, but if you don’t have your loved ones with you then those presents would feel hollow in this festive season.

We must now leave the police to conduct their investigation and offer them the same kind of support we showed on Thursday – a calm and level-headed one.

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