Hero PSNI riot officer hurt so badly she couldn't cuddle child
A female PSNI officer badly injured during one of the worst riots in recent years has spoken of the horror of coming face to face with violent mobs.
The 35-year-old Catholic mother-of-one had her sternum broken when she was hit by a slab of concrete thrown by rioters during a contentious parade in Belfast in 2012. She was one of 47 officers injured that day.
Despite her serious injury she continued bravely to hold the line until she collapsed, struggling to breathe, and was taken to hospital in a Land Rover.
The officer said the worst thing about her painful injury was being unable to cuddle her 18-month-old daughter.
Her interview with the Belfast Telegraph reveals the human cost of holding the line when violence erupts on our streets.
The officer's story comes as almost 1,500 police officers are being put through rigorous public order training in preparation for the marching season.
Over the next few weeks officers from specialist units, through to district and neighbourhood beat teams, will undergo intensive exercise drills to ensure they are physically and mentally prepared to deal with any potential outbreaks of violence.
The training is carried out in a simulated village within Ballykinler Army base. While there, officers are faced with a number of true-to-life public order scenarios.
During violent disorder in previous years police have been attacked with bricks and bottles, golf balls, concrete slabs, iron bars, knives, spears, ceremonial swords, fireworks, petrol bombs, blast bombs and live fire.
"It can get scary. But you know the risks you are taking when you go out there, you know there are people who want to harm you, but it's what we signed up to do," the policewoman said. "When you are out there you are so focused on the job that you don't have time to be frightened.
"It is very hard for your family at home, though. They can't do anything only wait until you are home safe," she added.
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous, was a sergeant in the PSNI's Tactical Support Group (TSG) when she was injured during rioting in north Belfast in 2012.
Almost 50 officers were hurt when they were attacked with petrol bombs, fireworks and bricks as they policed a contentious republican parade.
Up to 350 loyalists were involved in the disorder.
"It was September 2, 2012 at 5.20pm at Denmark Street. I was turning around to make sure there was no threat coming up behind us when I was hit by a slab of concrete.
"I knew I had been hit, but at the time, because of the adrenaline, I didn't feel any pain. I stumbled back a little and then continued on in the line," the officer explained.
"About 15 minutes later I realised I wasn't OK. I started breathing very rapidly and heavily. I got into the Land Rover and was taken to hospital. I had a fractured sternum. I felt really angry at myself. I was turning around to make sure none of my officers were getting injured and I gave someone the opportunity to hit me.
"It took about six months for my injury to heal. I have a little girl, she was just 18 months, and the worst thing was having to tell her that mummy couldn't lift her or carry her," she added.
The officer, recently promoted to Inspector, said she was apprehensive going back to work after the attack, but added: "You just have to get on with it. I knew what I was signing up for. It is really tough for my mum, though. She's always worrying about us. My two brothers are in the police, too. If we were out during trouble we'd all have to phone her to let her know we were home safe so she could stop worrying," she added.
Another female TSG officer (45), once slashed across the neck with a bottle, said public order policing was a very physically demanding job.
"You really have to keep fit. I run quite a lot to keep my fitness up. But it is your personal responsibility to keep fit. If you are not fit then you're putting your colleagues under extra pressure," she said.
The officer, in the police 19 years, added: "When I started out, for quite a while I was the only female officer, but there are a lot more of us now and we are well supported by our male colleagues."