No training? And for that a little boy had to die?

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You can spot people suffering from a bad conscience by the volume of their self-justification. Consider the excuses given by Manchester police on Saturday for why two police community support officers (PCSOs) stood by while ten-year-old Jordan Lyon drowned trying to save his sister.

First, according to Assistant Chief Constable David “Dave” Thompson, PCSOs are not trained to handle drowning incidents. Secondly, there was no indication where Jordan was in the pond. Thirdly, visibility in the pond was poor. Fourthly, by the time they arrived at the scene, the boy was already “probably dead”. And, anyway, only one PCSO stood by the on the bank – the other one cycled away to help to direct police to the scene.

Does the assistant chief constable convince? That the boy was probably already dead is irrelevant because they were not to know that, and by offering it as an excuse Mr Thompson raises the awful prospect that PCSOs will attend a drowning one day where the victim is very much alive but will still do nothing.

That there was no indication where the boy was is hard to credit, since his stepfather and a policemen were able to find him within minutes of entering the water. That one PCSO peddled away to direct the police is commendable but does not explain what his partner was doing.

As to poor visibility in the water, we have it on the authority of David Blunkett that this, too, can be dismissed. The former Home Secretary told the Today programme: “I would like to think that you or I, when we arrived on the bank as just normal human beings . . . we would have a go.” If Mr Blunkett is prepared to have a go what was stopping them?

Which leaves us with the matter of training. No one doubts that training is important. It teaches the individual to keep his head when all about him panic. That is why we so often hear soldiers or police who have performed feats of heroism say “my training took over”. This was illustrated recently in the car-bomb attack on Glasgow airport. How many of us would have legged it? Not John Smeaton and other passers-by. Their training as Glaswegians took over. Within minutes they had applied “the banjo” and the man was on the ground being kicked so vigorously that one man sprained his foot.

The argument that one is acting responsibly by refusing to do something for which one has not been trained is not merely a new and sinister addition to the armoury of a jobsworth but, worse, suggests the view that human beings are no more useful than a computer that does not have the correct software installed.

Unfortunately for poor Jordan Lyon, PCSOs have been well trained to overcome the natural human instinct to save a drowning child. Trained not to attempt something for which they had not been trained.