Irish News

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Police officer tells of petrol bomb horror

Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 19/07/2013 | 16:07

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A PSNI officer whose head was engulfed in flames after being hit with a petrol bomb in Belfast has said he feared his whole body was on fire.

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The 50-year-old sergeant, who cannot be named for security reasons, was holding the line against loyalist rioters at a flashpoint in the north of the city when he was struck by the potentially lethal weapon.

 

"All I could see was a sheet of flames in front of me so, I couldn't really determine how much of me was alight," he said.

 

"I couldn't feel the fire at first but the longer the flames were there I could feel myself burn. I was quite confident that the flames would be put out - it was just a case of making sure that we starved the flames of oxygen to put it out."

 

Police have been pelted with bricks, bottles, heavy masonry and over 100 petrol bombs during five consecutive nights of disorder which has erupted after Orangemen were banned from marching along a contested stretch of road in Ardoyne which separates loyalist and nationalist communities.

 

There have been over 60 arrests of people aged between 12 and 52 years old.

 

The officer, who has 27 years' experience, added: "I didn't see this petrol bomb before it hit me so, I was sort of caught unawares. The difficulty I had was the flames that had got underneath the visor which meant I couldn't see how much of myself was on fire or not."

 

He has hailed the four-stone of equipment and swift actions of his colleagues for helping to save his life.

 

"We work as a team and you always have to have great faith in your colleagues - and one of mine was very, very quick to react and was able to extinguish the flames very quickly," he said.

 

"We are well trained and we have the equipment to deal with it. It reduces injuries - it doesn't completely cut injuries but has certainly has helped."

 

Immediately after the attack the officer dusted himself down and returned to front line duties. He has vowed not to be deterred from doing his job.

 

He said: "My injuries were very minor so, I just continued with my duties. The burns were very light - it was like having sunburn.

 

"You just think 'well I've got away with that' and go back to doing what you do. It's our job. We are well trained and unfortunately we have had plenty of practice of these types of scenarios.

 

"The photographs are pretty dramatic looking but it probably looks worse than it actually was. My children are grown up so they know but my elderly father hasn't seen them. I don't want him to worry too much."

 

Chief Inspector Graham Dodds, the commander in charge of 16 riot squad units, said the petrol bomb attack was being treated as attempted murder.

 

He said it was fortunate no one had been seriously hurt during the serious disturbances which have rocked parts of Northern Ireland over the past week.

 

"It is attempted murder -- what else do you think throwing a lit bomb into someone else's face is. At the very least, if you don't kill somebody you could seriously injure them and it is just by the grace of God that has not happened and that we have good training," said Mr Dodds.

 

More than 1,000 mutual aid officers have been drafted in to help the PSNI, who are currently working shifts of 18-20 hours-a-day.

 

This comes on top of the Union flag protests earlier this year and the G8 which involved the biggest ever policing operation.

 

Mr Dodds has paid tribute to the efforts of his staff whom he said would continue for as long as it takes.

 

"This has probably been the busiest eight or nine months that a lot of us can remember," he added.

 

"Officers are tired but they are also resilient. We do not want to let our colleagues down and we do not want to let the public down."

 

Meanwhile, the wife of a serving police officer has also spoken of her anxiety and the disruption caused to family life by the recent violence.

 

The mother-of-one, who declined to be named because of the threat from dissident republicans, said: "It is just sleep and work, sleep and work.

 

"He's had two days off in the last two weeks. It is very stressful - you get a great sense of relief when you hear the car pulling into the driveway at 3.30am. He tries to text me if he can or tell me where he's going - then I can look up on Twitter or something what is happening in that area. Then you hear 'officer injured' and you think 'please don't let it be him'.

 

"You don't want it to be anybody but you want him to be okay.

 

"It is frustrating when you see people rioting but you can't get angry otherwise you would spend your whole life being angry."

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