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Case Study - Police Assaulted on Duty

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Local News | Case Study - Police Assaulted on Duty | Andover & Villages It was November 2012 and a routine night shift in Trowbridge for Inspector Gill Hughes, who was then a Sergeant working on response.

A member of the public had phoned in to report a suspected drink driver who had crashed into a number of parked cars in Gloucester Road so Gill, who was driving a single-crewed police car on her own, was dispatched to investigate.

When she arrived the crashed car was abandoned but the witness was still on the scene and pointed in the direction of nearby Bond Street, where the driver had fled.

Gill, who joined Wiltshire Police in 2001 after a previous career as a military police officer in Germany and Northern Ireland, didn’t realise it at the time, but she was the only officer in Trowbridge and the nearest crews were 20 minutes away guarding a prisoner at the RUH in Bath.

She called in on her radio to let the control room know she was pursuing a suspect and ran in the direction the witness had pointed.

She had no idea that she was running towards an eight-minute brutal, drug-fuelled assault, which would leave her fearing for her life.

Gill says those eight minutes while she waited for back-up were the longest of her life.

“At this stage everything seemed routine”, she said, “it was the kind of job I had dealt with every day of my policing career and I wasn’t feeling concerned at all.

“I approached him and told him we needed to speak about the accident, and he just punched me straight in the face.

“At once I pressed my panic button, but he continued to punch me and grabbed my head, smacking it against a wall.

“I managed to use my Pava spray, but it was having no affect at all, so I used the canister to hit him around the head to try to get him off me. But it was no use, by this point he had hold of my stab vest and was using it to choke me.

“I couldn’t breathe and all I could think was that I was going to die. I truly believed that I was never going to see my children again.”

She added: “I really think that the only reason he didn’t kill me was because, following a previous assault at work two years earlier, I had started Tae Kwon Do training so was able to defend myself pretty well.”

Gill also had another concern. Her radio earpiece had fallen out, so she had no way of knowing where her colleagues were and how long it would be before they arrived.

The struggle with her assailant had also meant she was now quite far down an alleyway, and she was concerned that back-up wouldn’t be able to find her.

Gill used her handcuffs to hit the man around the face and he let go of her and ran inside his house, which was nearby.

She staggered out of the alleyway as officers arrived, collapsing onto the street covered in blood.

The man then came out of his house armed with a knife and it took a number of officers using Tasers to eventually disarm and detain him.

Gill was checked over my paramedics and taken back to Trowbridge Police Station to clean up and assess her injuries.

She had a bald patch on her head where clumps of hair had been pulled out, extensive cuts and bruises across her face and head and her entire uniform was covered in blood.

Forensic teams who attended the scene later told her they thought there had been a murder because of the amount of blood over the walls and pavement.

However, it was the longer-term physical injuries and mental and emotional scars which have taken their toll on Gill.

She said: “My children were aged 12 and 15 at the time and having to sit down with them and explain what had happened, because they could see my injuries, was one of the hardest things to do.

“My husband is also a police officer so they had some idea of what the job involved, but obviously nothing this serious had happened before.

“I initially went straight back to work because I was worried that if I didn’t do it straight away then I would never go back. I didn’t want to be scared, I didn’t want to let him win.

“But I started having panic attacks. Even when I went to bed at night I couldn’t have the duvet too high near my neck because of being choked with the stab vest. I had a big fear of being out single-crewed on my own when it was dark.”

Gill then agreed to counselling, but the pain from her injuries never really went away and she was later diagnosed with disc problems in her neck, thought to have been caused by having her head repeatedly slammed against the wall.

She was also diagnosed with Lupus, which she and her doctors believe was triggered by the trauma of her assault.

She is now on daily medication and is no longer allowed to carry out frontline duties, the part of her job which gave her the most enjoyment and exhilaration.

“That is probably the impact which is hardest to measure – the impact on my career. Who knows where I would be now or what rank or role I would be, if this hadn’t happened.

“That is one of the things I feel angriest about, the fact that I now have to work behind a desk, instead of being out there responding to emergencies.”

During her 13 years working on response, Gill was assaulted 14 times, culminating in the attack which effectively finished her frontline career.

These various assaults included being spat at, punched, pushed over and knocked unconscious.

However, she continues to work for the police and recently started a new role as Force Incident Manager, co-ordinating police response to 999 calls coming into the control room.

She said: “You just have to remember that the vast majority of people are good people, it is the small minority that give the rest a bad name. The majority of people want to help police, they support us and the work we do, and we are making a difference out there.

“One of the things that I struggled with after the assault was that people were passing by at the time, and people were in nearby houses filming it. Nobody intervened, which I understand, but they also didn’t phone 999 either.

“It was obvious that I was being severely beaten up, and no-one seemed to care. That’s a message I would get out to the public – if you witness something like that then please call the police. Even if you think we already know about it, it's better to have too many calls than not enough.”

The man who assaulted Gill pleaded guilty at the last minute to common assault, driving offences and racially abusing a police officer. He was jailed for five months and only four weeks of that was for the assault on Gill.

She said she saw him while out on patrol in Trowbridge once, “He looked over and obviously recognised me as he stopped and glared, but I just stood my ground and stared back. Despite everything that has happened, I didn’t want him to think he intimidated me.”

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