A Coleraine police officer who risked his life to save a cliff diver from drowning after the man got into trouble in the sea off Dunluce Castle on the north Antrim coast has been awarded a top national bravery honour.
Sergeant Gareth Lavery was first on the scene after the 18-year-old from Kells, Co Antrim, dived off the cliff and found himself in difficulty. The teenager was at least 10 feet from the water's edge and unable to climb out because of the choppiness of the sea and the rocks.
Mr Lavery, formerly a beach lifeguard with the RNLI, called a lifeboat. Then, seeing the distance the man had been washed out to sea and the state he was in, he went into the water and swam out to the man and held his head above the water, calmed him down and instructed him on the correct way to breathe in such circumstances.
As he and the struggling man drifted out to sea more police arrived at the scene and coordinated the rescue from the land. In the end Mr Lavery spent around 15 minutes in the sea with the man, attempting to keep him calm and holding his head above the water. By the time a lifeboat arrived to get them both to the shore an ambulance was waiting. The man was taken to hospital for check-ups before being released. In the meantime Mr Lavery returned to finish his late shift.
Now he has been awarded a Royal Humane Society Testimonial on Velum which has been personally approved by and will be signed by the society's president, Princess Alexandra.
Adding his personal praise for the actions of Mr Lavery, Royal Humane Society secretary Andrew Chapman said: "Sgt Lavery was a true hero. If he had not put his own life at risk in the way he did this young man would almost certainly have been overwhelmed by the sea and drowned.
"However, Sgt Lavery went into the treacherous waters, stayed completely calm, swam out to the man, and stayed with him, keeping him from drowning until help arrived. And once he had seen the man safely on to an ambulance he then went back to complete his shift. He did a magnificent job and a life was saved as a result. He richly deserves the award."
No date has been fixed for presentation of the award.
The roots of the Royal Humane Society stretch back more than two centuries. The Queen is its patron. It is the premier national body for honouring bravery in the saving of human life.
It was founded in 1774 by two of the day's eminent medical men, William Hawes and Thomas Cogan. Their primary motive was to promote techniques of resuscitation.
However, as it emerged that numerous people were prepared to put their own lives at risk to save others, the awards scheme evolved, and today a variety of awards are made depending on the bravery involved.