A police officer pictured blowing a kiss to volunteers after the Manchester bomb attack has praised the “outpouring of appreciation” of people in the city.
Durham PC Nick Downing made the playful gesture to women offering “free hugs” in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack on Monday.
Natalie Thornley took the photo and posted it on social media.
PC Downing said he had been “proud” to have supported those affected by Salman Abedi’s suicide bombing.
Ms Thornley, 24, had just intended to record the unusual sight of a heavily armed officer on the day after the bomb attack killed 22 people.
“When I put it online I thought maybe my mates and my family would share it – but now everyone is,” she said.
The officer’s gun clearly made a hug impossible, Ms Thornley said.
PC Downing said he got a call on Wednesday morning to come down to the city and was sent with two other Durham officers, a Cleveland Police officer and two Greater Manchester Police officers to patrol Albert Square in the city centre.
“Throughout the day the people and businesses of Manchester were extremely supportive,” he said.
“I can’t recall in the past 14 years such an outpouring of appreciation by the public. I shook so many hands and was photographed more than on my own wedding day – the Manchester public were amazing.
“I left Manchester that evening, a couple of hours after the vigil at Albert Square had finished and made my way back to County Durham arriving home at around midnight. It was a long, but rewarding shift.
“I am proud to have been able to support the people of Manchester, but I know if I hadn’t taken that call there are many other officers who would have done just the same.
“I would like to say that although I played a small part, there are many other officers who worked longer hours, in more challenging situations, all of whom have my utmost respect.”
Ms Thornley, a graphic designer from Altrincham, added: “You never really see heavily armed police patrolling the streets at all.
“It really shows the spirit people in Manchester maintained and the love that has spread throughout the city.”