SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: On the cross for us?

The single rose and policemans helmet were placed where PC Palmer challenged the intruder
The single rose and policemans helmet were placed where PC Palmer challenged the intruder

After the overnight vigil in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, Palace of Westminster, the coffin of PC Keith Palmer and his family led the funeral cortege through Old Palace Yard into Parliament Square before the journey to Southwark Cathedral. The flowers above the hearse declared ‘No. 1 Daddy’.

With others, I had joined the Speaker’s Chaplain the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin at the chapel vigil; then with hundreds who work at Westminster, Tim Loughton MP and I stood with heads bowed as a single rose and the policeman’s helmet were placed where the brave officer had challenged the brutal intruder.

Holy Week, the last week in Lent, ends on Easter Saturday. It starts with Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem which is one of the few events described in each of the four gospels. This leads on to the crucifixion on Good Friday.

I used an allusion to the image nearly 30 years ago after the killing in Northern Ireland of a good friend, the builder Robert Glover. He and his brother George were scrupulously fair employers of both communities. Their mother was the fine organist in the Moneymore church where my great grandfather had preached.

As duty minister when Robert died, I agreed with the Northern Ireland Office that a comment was necessary.

Instead of the fairly standard line about an attack that would not change policy, I asked that the simple statement should be these ten words: “Robert has been put on the cross for us all.”

One hardened civil servant said that that was a powerful image. I replied that it was intended to make those around the killers ask more often what could be the point of violence.

On Palm Sunday, I had returned from Palma, Mallorca, after celebrating an 80th birthday in the extended family.

One memorable Palm Sunday was in 1980 when the broadcaster Martin Bell and I were at the funeral of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Tragically, his assassination while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel was followed by the deaths of 14 more people around us during the funeral.

I had great admiration for the television cameraman who had to have his back to the disturbances while Martin Bell, who later joined me in the House of Commons, and I could at least see the trouble he was describing in the crowded square.

The Cross is central to Christianity. Suffering is shared in the great Abrahamic faiths and in other religions and ways of aiming to live a good life. There is as much fasting as feasting.

The Cross in a metaphorical sense brings to mind one of my campaigns that did not achieve complete success.

17 years ago, two charity workers at the Wintercomfort Cambridge day centre project for the homeless were jailed for not preventing sharing of heroin in or near their premises.

The brilliant Ruth Wyner and John Brock were sentenced for longer than the dealers. Their story has been included in a moving book by Alexander Masters. I led a protest march from Marble Arch to Trafalgar Square and asked questions in parliament. They were released early; they should never have been prosecuted and they should not have been found guilty.

Drugs are rife in too many jails. In prison, Ruth signed a confidentiality agreement so she could give trusted support to fellow prisoners on drugs inside.

With family and others in church, I shall celebrate Easter Day and Easter week.

In the days before, I shall be thinking deeply about the first Holy Week and about modern sacrifices.

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