The call to Greater Manchester Police control room seemed routine – one of hundreds of reports the force deals with each day.
A resident was claiming a burglary had occurred at a house on an estate in Hattersley, a suburb to the east of the city. The suspects were believed to have already fled. But while the details of the 999 call appeared banal, the results were tragic: it was a deadly trap.
Police are investigating the source of the call, made shortly before 10am yesterday, as it appears to have lured two female police officers to their deaths. As two unarmed officers approached the house in Abbey Gardens, they were allegedly fired on before a grenade was hurled at them. PC Fiona Bone, 32, died at the scene while her colleague PC Nicola Hughes, 23, later succumbed to her injuries in hospital.
Dale Cregan, 29, one of Britain's most-wanted and dangerous men, whom detectives had spent the past month pursuing over fatal grenade attacks on a father and son in an underworld feud, later gave himself up.
The policewomen's deaths marked the bloodiest day in British policing for nearly 50 years – the worst atrocity since 1966, when three officers were shot dead while questioning suspects in a van in west London.
Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said it was one of the darkest days his force had confronted and said officers were "shattered" by the loss of "brave and courageous" colleagues who, he said, exemplified the very best in British policing .
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, led the tributes to the fallen officers. "What we have seen is the absolutely despicable act of pure evil, the cold-blooded murder of two female police officers doing their job protecting the public – another reminder of the incredible risks and great work our police service does," he said.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, described their deaths as "deeply shocking" while the Greater Manchester Police Federation chairman Ian Hanson said the murders were "the slaughter of the innocents".
Sir Peter said it is believed Cregan, who had been shielded by criminal followers after absconding on bail following the second grenade killing last month, had stayed at the house overnight. Two other people inside the property – a man and a woman – were later arrested. Following the killings, the former roofer handed himself into a local police station where he was arrested on suspicion of four murders.
Although locals claimed that rumours had been circulating in recent weeks that Cregan was living among friends and family in the area, police said they had no intelligence to support these claims.
However armed officers had been on patrol around the clock in east Manchester in recent weeks as they sought to recapture the suspect with the £50,000 reward on his head. The decision had been taken to send the unarmed officers to the address because it was unknown to detectives involved in the manhunt and the call was logged as "routine". Parts of the estate are already believed to have been searched. But police admitted they did not know whether he had fled abroad or was hiding closer to home.
The women are the first female officers to lose their lives on duty since the murder in 2005 of Sharon Beshenivsky, who was killed during a robbery on a travel agent in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
The deaths provoked fresh calls for the routine arming of police officers, including from the family of PC David Rathband, who took his own life earlier this year after being blinded by the fugitive Raoul Moat. But Sir Peter insisted this would present an even greater danger to officers. "We are passionate that the British style of policing is routinely unarmed policing. We know from the experience in America and other countries that having armed officers does not mean police officers do not end up getting shot," he said.
Dozens of vehicles and uniformed officers flooded the Hattersley areas yesterday, while bomb disposal experts examined the house for further explosives. Locals, who described hearing a boom and the sounds of up to a dozen shots being fired, said a single man had lived the property on his own since his mother died several years ago. Warren Shepherd, a window cleaner, said: "I just heard gunshots – around 10 of them, then a pause and a big explosion."