A Special Branch detective was stabbed to death last night during an anti-terrorist raid linked to the discovery of deadly ricin poison in London last week.
Stephen Oake, a 40-year-old detective constable with three children, died in hospital from stab wounds to his chest. He and four other officers were attacked when they went to arrest a terrorist suspect in a flat in Manchester. Another officer was stabbed in the arm and three others were injured.
Three men of North African origin, aged 23, 27 and 29, were arrested at the flat and are being held under anti-terrorism legislation. One was also being questioned about the murder.
The first death on British soil in the campaign against terrorism since 11 September came when Greater Manchester Police went with Immigration Service officials to arrest one suspect at 5.50pm yesterday. They found three men in a flat within a three-storey Victorian semi-detached house in the Crumpsall area of the city. The three men were restrained and were placed under guard by two uniformed officers wearing protective clothing while three Special Branch officers, including DC Oake, searched the flat.
After about an hour one suspect managed to break free and attacked their guards with a kitchen knife. DC Oake was fatally wounded when he and the other Special Branch officers, who were not wearing body armour, went to help their colleagues. DC Oake was given emergency treatment at the scene but died in North Manchester Hospital.
The other four officers were in the same hospital last night. A 38-year-old Special Branch detective inspector received superficial stab wounds to the chest, a 41-year-old Special Branch detective sergeant suffered superficial stab wounds to the arm, a 34-year-old uniformed constable received a broken ankle and a 42-year-old sergeant had a leg injury. All four were today described as being ``stable'' and ``comfortable''.
Speaking at the scene of the raid in Manchester, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Green confirmed it was linked to the Metropolitan Police's discovery of ricin in a flat in Wood Green, north London, last week. He said: "I am unable to give details of the counter-terrorist operation but I can confirm it is connected to those led by the Metropolitan Police in recent days."
Forensic examinations were being made at the flat but Mr Green said there was no evidence of ricin. "We have sealed the premises and clearly public safety is paramount but there is nothing to indicate anything of that nature is there."
The suspect they wanted to question is thought to have been identified from information gained by interviewing suspects and searching premises in London last week and in Bournemouth on Monday.
Michael Todd, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, was out of the force's area on business but returned to the city last night. He paid tribute to DC Oake who followed his father, Robin Oake, into the Greater Manchester force and defended the decision to send officers into the flat without protective body armour.
The Special Branch officers had entered the flat after the arrests were made and did not expect to be confronted by an armed suspect.
Mr Todd said the "intelligence led" operation had targeted one individual and police had not expected to find ricin at the flat. "It's been a rather terrifying day and a rather traumatic day with one of our officers losing his life," he said.
Tony Blair said the death was "an appalling tragedy and wicked in the extreme. I was shocked and very saddened to learn of the death of this brave police officer. His death and the injuries to the other officers involved in this incident underline the dangers that our police and security forces face."
A warrant to arrest the suspect was signed yesterday morning by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, who said: "I commend the bravery and commitment of these police officers in defending us not only against dangerous criminals but against those threatening the safety of our country."
Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "The whole nation will mourn the passing of a hero who died defending us from terrorism. This episode illustrates all too clearly the nature of the danger with which we are faced."
More than 50 officers have been killed on duty over the past 30 years. Jan Berry, who chairs the National Police Federation, representing front-line officers, said the death highlighted the dangers. "This evening's events demonstrate the role police officers play every day in the fight against international terrorism," she said.