Derbyshire PC who risked life to stop dam collapsing wins bravery award

A police officer in Derbyshire who risked his life to stop a dam from collapsing and sending billions of litres of water on to a nearby town has won an award for his bravery.

PC Geoff Marshall put his life on the line to save thousands of people in Whaley Bridge when it was feared a dam at nearby Toddbrook reservoir would burst.

He received the honour at the Police Bravery Awards at Downing Street on Tuesday, in a ceremony delayed for more than a year due to the pandemic.

“It was really nice to receive some acknowledgment for it, and I’m very proud of have helped the people of Whaley Bridge,” Marshall said. “It was always in the back of my mind that there was a risk but I was just getting on with the job. Although at one point there was a big gush of water and I did think I was done for.”

Marshall’s heroic deed followed days of heavy rain in 2019 which sent water surging over the dam wall and destroyed sections of the structure. Engineers estimated it was likely that the entire 250-metre long dam would fail without swift action.

The Derbyshire Police Federation chair, Tony Wetton, who nominated Marshall for the award, said: “There is no doubt this would have led to significant loss of life.

“Geoff, along with many Derbyshire police colleagues who rushed to Whaley Bridge to do whatever they could to protect the public and the town, showed outstanding bravery and selflessness in an extreme situation. The enormity of their service and actions will be appreciated for many, many years to come.”

Marshall volunteered to install hundreds of sandbags across the structure to divert water away from the damaged section and was “the last link the chain”. The team were told, in the event of a collapse, they would have between 45 seconds to a minute to evacuate before the dam wall gave way, although Marshall said in his position it could have instantly fallen away.

“In reality, were the dam to have failed it is highly unlikely any of those involved in the sandbagging operation would have survived,” said Wetton. “All the officers present elected that they could not stand by and risk the death of around 2,000 people, including colleagues, without doing something.”

A total of 94 officers from forces across England and Wales were put forward for an award at the annual event. Other winners included West Midlands police officer Paul Newman, who fought off a suspect who tried to gouge his eyes as he attempted to apprehend him in a water-filled storm drain.

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