PC Justin Withers, PC Phil Clark (pictured) and PC Mark Gunning were carrying out a night time patrol on the river in October 2020 when they received a report that a man had gone into the river after having slit the throat of his girlfriend’s dog. He had also taken MDMA, stripped himself naked and tried to hijack vehicles.
PC Withers and PC Clark risked their own lives by jumping into the water to pull him out while PC Gunning expertly maneuvered the boat to keep the trio safe.
When the officers first located the man, they tried to negotiate with him and help him out of the water, but he was seemingly intent on drowning himself.
PC Gunning tried to move closer to the man, but the tide, wind and lack of visibility made it a difficult and dangerous task. The man then swam under the boat in an attempt to get to the propellors. PC Withers and PC Clark tried to get hold of him but without any clothes to grab hold of, they were unsuccessful. PC Gunning disabled the starboard side engine to protect the man while the others continued trying to pull him from the water.
PC Withers quickly put on a dry suit and jumped into the river, where the man fought furiously with him, punching, kicking and biting, and trying to force him under the water. PC Clark saw that PC Withers was tiring and jumped into the water in his uniform.
Both officers tried to hold the man out of the water, but he continued to fight them. It was not until an RNLI boat arrived that the officers could at last get the man from the water and into safety, although he continued to fight them out of the water. They cuffed him, checked him for shock and injuries and got him medical treatment.
PC Withers said it was humbling that he and his colleagues had been nominated for the National Police Bravery Awards.
He said: “We didn’t really think anything of it. After we all sat down and obviously we discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what went through our heads and that was it.
“We had a debrief the next day and one of the inspectors thanked us. We thought that was probably it, a job well done. That’s what we’ve trained for.”
Ch Insp Dave Rhodes said: “All three officers are extremely well trained and experienced within the Marine Policing Unit and have saved numerous people from the river during their service but this was a very unique incident where the person of concern did not want to be saved.
“The Thames River, is fast-moving and cold water shock and hyperthermia are very valid concerns. They put their own concerns, fears and safety to one side and showed tremendous courage and professionalism to save this man’s life. PC Gunning also had a massive part to play in this rescue. His quick thinking in cutting the engine no doubt saved the man from being tangled and cut up in the props. He also showed courage and great boat handling skills as the starboard engine controls and the power steering make the boat very difficult to maneuver.”
Ken Marsh, Metropolitan Police Federation Chair, said: “What a superb story of bravery, courage, skill and professionalism. The officers worked fantastically well as a team and the rescue would not have been possible if they weren’t able to trust in each other’s abilities.
“I am immensely proud of these officers and delighted to call them colleagues. They risked their own lives to help a man who was intent on doing himself and – as a consequence – them harm. They are an absolute credit to the Metropolitan Police Service and I applaud them for their courage. Justin, Phil and Mark are very deserving nominees.”
The National Police Bravery Awards honour officers from across England and Wales who have performed outstanding acts of bravery while on or off duty.
As part of The National Police Bravery Awards, PC Withers, PC Clark and PC Gunning will attend a reception and an evening awards ceremony in London in December.
The Awards are sponsored by Police Mutual.