Belfast Telegraph

I was burning up, says petrol bombed officer

BY LESLEY-ANNE McKEOWN

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.

The 50-year-old sergeant, who doesn't want to 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 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 70 arrests of people aged between 12 and 52.

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."

He said his four-stone of equipment and swift action of colleagues helped 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 helped."

Immediately after the attack the officer returned to frontline duties. He has vowed not to be deterred from doing his job.

He said: "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."

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

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