‘I’d resigned myself to the fact that I was getting a kicking here. These guys were obviously serious.’ — PC PETER DOHERTY
Behind the steel shutters, it sounded as if somebody was tearing the shop apart. PC Peter Doherty tiptoed up to the front and listened. The alarm light was flashing and he could hear a loud banging and crashing inside. He turned round and went back to the car where his more experienced colleagues were waiting.
‘I think they’re still inside – we’ve got them!’ he said. Sergeant Martin Hewish looked up at the blue-fronted newsagent’s shop.
‘Yes, Pete, you’re right. You go round to the left there. We’ll go right, loop round and meet you at the back. I’ll send the two in the car round there too.’
Peter nodded and trotted off in the direction indicated. This was only his second week after being signed off to go on patrol independently. Sergeant Hewish and the other officer, PC Paul Browning, went the other way.
Born in Coventry, Peter had spent fifteen years in the army and had served in Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and the %rst Gulf
War. He’d left the military after becoming disillusioned, and decided to become a police officer. Because the application process had taken so long, he’d spent time working as a used car salesman and then successfully applied to be a paramedic. He’d even completed some of the preliminary ambulance training before he received his start date for Warwickshire Police.
Peter was older than most of the new recruits arriving at the training centre at Ryton. He’d been surprised at some of the behaviour that was tolerated, such as answering mobile phone calls during sessions or arriving late. His own army discipline and %tness were a great benefit, and after completing his classroom training he was sent to Bedworth, a small town north of Coventry. So far he’d loved every minute of it.
Peter turned the corner at the end of the parade of shops and carried on another thirty or so yards before reaching the access road that led round to a small loading yard at the back of the shops. Along one side was a tall hedge, and at the far end he could make out a row of concrete garages.
Peter heard a squeal of tires and started running towards the yard. A black Lexus came hurtling around the corner ahead of him, almost on two wheels. ‘That’s got to be a getaway car,’ he thought, and drew his baton. If nothing else he’d just try to put it through the windscreen. As the car came closer, Peter stepped to one side and raised his baton, ready to strike. As he did so, the car turned towards him. He jumped to the side, and the car turned again. Peter slipped and dropped his baton.
The car was still bearing down on him. ‘Shit,’ he thought, ‘he’s going to wipe me out.’ At the last moment, Peter rolled to the side and the car’s wheels flashed past his face.
Peter sat up and dusted himself off. He started to look for his baton. A police car came into sight from the direction of the yard. It was the mobile unit Sergeant Hewish had sent round to check, but they’d been unable to stop the Lexus making off.
‘Are you all right?’ asked the driver, winding down the window.
‘Of course I’m all right!’ said Peter, ‘Get after them!’ The officer in the car nodded and drove off.
Peter stood up and looked around for his baton. As he picked it up, he noticed movement on the roof of a nearby garage. First one man, then another, both in balaclavas, clambered into view on top of the building. ‘Great,’ thought Peter. ‘The getaway car driver must’ve panicked and left these two behind.’
‘Stop where you are. You’re both nicked,’ he shouted. Another masked man appeared on the roof. The odds were lengthening, but Peter was still confident.
Then the men turned and made off. Peter called for back-up on his radio, but wasn’t sure it was working. He shouted out to his colleagues in the hope that they could hear him. What Peter didn’t know was that the route they’d taken round the other side of the block led to a long row of houses, with no access to the rear yard of the shop.
Peter ran into the yard. The three men had climbed off the garage roof ahead of him – but he was gaining on them. As he reached for the nearest man, he heard the sound of a revving engine behind him. The Lexus had come back for the rest of the gang. ‘Piss,’ thought Peter, but hopefully the car with the other two officers wasn’t far behind.
The car spun around in front and stopped. Peter decided his best option was to target the driver and put the car out of action; the other robbers would have to make off on foot, and would be less likely to get away.
Suddenly, the three men he was chasing stopped and turned to face him. One was carrying a pick-axe handle; another had a sledge hammer. The one nearest him took a swing with the wooden pick-axe handle, and Peter lifted his arm to deflect the blow. He staggered as he felt an enormous impact on his left side, just below his raised arm. ‘I’ve been shot,’ he thought in disbelief. But he hadn’t heard a bang. As his left arm came down he felt it touch something, and there was a crunching in his side. They’d speared him!
‘Get in, get in!’ The driver was screaming with an almost comically high-pitched voice, but two robbers were still coming towards Peter.
He staggered back. ‘I’m going to get a kicking here,’ he thought. ‘These guys are serious, and if they get hold of this thing while it’s still inside me I’m fucked. They could push it in further, or God knows what.’
He felt himself becoming fired up with anger as the adrenaline surge kicked in. He reached to his side and gripped the shaft – it was thick, with angled corners but not sharp edges, and felt like cold steel.
He started to pull, and could feel it grating against his ribs. Peter had been wearing a stab vest, but it had gone between the front and rear plates through the soft webbing below his armpit, almost as if the assailant had known exactly where to strike. The weapon came out and clattered to the floor. The robbers looked at it, and then backed off. Peter realised he couldn’t breathe. He reached round to the side and felt in with his fingers. There was a slight wetness – ‘That’s got to be blood,’ he thought; but apart from a stinging pain at the entry point it didn’t hurt too much. He thought it hadn’t pierced that deeply.
The two robbers had run around to the far side of the car and were getting in. Peter lurched forward, stumbled, but stayed on his feet. The doors of the car slammed shut and it drove off.
Peter stood swaying and watched it leave. The wound in his side was really starting to hurt. He couldn’t breathe, and as he bent over he caught sight of the weapon on the ground. It was a steel crowbar with the straight tip sharpened to a point. ‘Fuck’, he thought.
People started running towards him from the neighbouring houses. Peter toppled over, falling onto the crowbar. One of the onlookers tried to pick it up. ‘Fuck off,’ thought Peter. ‘Leave it!’ He tried to speak, but didn’t have the breath. He could see a large pool of blood forming on the floor. A woman was screaming.
‘Oh my God, oh my God, do you need an ambulance?’ Peter tried to nod. No shit! He tried to stand up again, and got halfway to his feet before stumbling over again.
‘What do you want me to do?’ asked a man.
‘Help . . .’ Peter was struggling to find the breath to speak. ‘Help me . . . off . . . with this . . . armour.’ The man loosened the Velcro straps. Peter could see the horrified look on his face. He put his right hand up to the wound. Now the armour was clear, he could feel through his shirt. His fingers touched jagged ribs, and a hole. ‘That’s nasty,’ he thought. Nearby, the woman was still screaming.
‘Listen,’ he said to the man. ‘Call me an . . . ambulance. I might be unconscious soon . . . Tell them I’m losing blood . . . and I have a . . . punctured left lung . . .’ Peter sat back, exhausted with the effort of speaking. His paramedic training told him that if one lung collapsed then differential pressure meant the other was likely to follow. In that case he would almost certainly lose consciousness. If the ambulance crew were told what was wrong without having to check, it would save time – and quite probably save his life.
Peter tried to remain in a sitting position. He was worried that if he lay down, he’d pass out. He activated his radio and got through to his colleague Paul Browning.
‘Mate, you really need to get to me because I’m fucked here,’ he gasped. ‘I’ve been stabbed, and my ribs are smashed in. I’ve got the weapon.’
‘Where are you?’ asked Paul.
‘I’m round the back of the shop. If you see the crowd of people then you’ve found me.’
The man who’d called the ambulance had been passed a blanket and was trying to wrap it around Peter’s shoulders.
‘Look, mate, I just need some space, please,’ Peter asked. It was early August, and not a cold evening. Within a minute, Paul arrived.
‘Fuck me!’ he said. ‘Don’t pass out on me! I need you to tell me what to do!’
Peter could feel he was on the edge of consciousness. It would be so easy to let the darkness wash over him. He started to lean back.
‘Can you just leave me alone?’ he said to his colleague.
‘No!’ said Paul. ‘Stay with me, stay awake.’ Peter sat back up. The sharp, angry pain in his side was getting worse and worse, and he felt as if he’d been winded, that he couldn’t get his breath. He fought down the urge to panic; made himself stay calm. Paul helped Peter to get comfortable by leaning him on the discarded body armour.
Peter looked up. The alarm light was still flashing on the side of the shop. ‘Of all the shit that could have killed me in my life,’ he thought to himself, ‘now I’m going to die outside a newspaper shop. That’s just ridiculous. But at least if I die, my partner will be told I died doing the right thing.’ For some reason, as he struggled to stay awake, he felt this was important.
When the ambulance crew arrived, Peter recognised them – he’d worked with them before. Paul Browning explained about the punctured lung.
‘I’m barely hanging on here,’ said Peter from the floor. ‘I’m not sure if I can stay conscious.’
‘Just relax. Let me check your lung,’ said the paramedic, kneeling down. She felt around Peter’s side.
‘You’ve got air entry on the left side, which means there must still be some function. Air going in and out. That’s good.’ She felt a little more and winced. ‘It’s a bit of a mess, but I think you’re going to be OK.’
Carefully they moved Peter onto a stretcher, though by now the pain was excruciating, and it was made worse by the grinding and grating sensation he could feel in his broken ribs.
The George Eliot hospital in Nuneaton was just six minutes away, and by the time they arrived the crash team were ready. Peter was still conscious as he was wheeled into the A&E department. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff immediately surrounded the stretcher.
The initial assessment was that Peter’s wound was nasty but superficial. But there was a problem. Almost as he watched, he could see his stomach swelling up. A nurse tried to take a blood pressure reading.
‘That can’t be right,’ she said. ‘According to this you shouldn’t be conscious.’ She tried again. The reading was the same. Suddenly, there was an increased air of urgency in the treatment room. A consultant was called in. He pressed Peter’s swelling stomach. The agony was unbearable! It became clear Peter was bleeding internally. Two very wide needles were pushed in and fluid began draining out.
Peter was sent for a CT scan, and the full extent of the damage became clear. The crowbar had struck him in a downward arc and penetrated ten inches. The sharpened tip had punched through a rib, popped his diaphragm, bisected his spleen, damaged a kidney, burst a blood vessel in his stomach and torn his bowel. He was sedated and prepared for surgery.
Peter didn’t come round for two days. The first surgical team found such a mess when they operated that they realized another, more extensive, procedure would be needed. It was easier to keep him sedated and ready for the second team.
When he awoke, he found the bed was inclined at an odd angle, to aid recovery, and he had tubes and pipes everywhere. He’d been fitted with a nasal feeding tube, and discovered that the damage to his bowel meant that he now wore a colostomy bag.
He could barely move. After a few hours, the feeding tube was becoming unbearable. Peter decided he could do without it, and began pulling it. He could feel it coming up and out of his oesophagus. His girlfriend Tracey stayed with him, and explained that he’d already had numerous lucid conversations with people, and yet he remembered nothing of them.
Peter was still in intensive care, but his condition had stabilized. The attack had made headlines in the local media, and the hospital was receiving so many phone calls and visits from well-wishers that it took the unusual step of putting out a press release asking people to stay away to allow him to recover.
After three days, Peter left hospital and went home. To start with, he could barely eat. His stomach had shrunk so much that half a slice of toast would leave him feeling bloated. He was unable to stand or sit unaided and felt constantly out of breath. Slowly things improved, and six months after the operation doctors told him his bowel had healed – and the colostomy bag was removed.
Because he lost his spleen, Peter has to take penicillin each day and is far more vulnerable to colds and other viruses than most. A year after the attack, he also discovered that he had lost a kidney. Doctors had thought it would be OK, but tests later showed that his body had decided it was too badly damaged and had reabsorbed it, leaving just a small nodule of scar tissue.
Seven months after the attack, Peter returned to work. After an intensive period of training, and passing numerous fitness tests, he was allowed back to front-line policing.
On the night of the attack, the Lexus had fled across the border into the West Midlands Police area. They’d put up their helicopter, and tracked the vehicle and members of the gang as they returned home. All but one were arrested immediately; the fifth member of the gang gave himself up a month later, realising the net was closing in.
They’d left their haul behind at the scene: a quilt cover stuffed with stolen cigarettes – hardly a king’s ransom, but almost the price of an officer’s life.
Peter received a Chief Constable’s Commendation and was nominated for a National Bravery Award. After returning to duty following his injury, he received a second commendation for his handling of a stabbing incident.
Mark Connolly admitted causing grievous bodily harm, burglary and aggravated car theft. He was sentenced to jail for eight years and given a four-year driving ban.
In 2009, Peter Doherty was contacted by a reporter, who asked him if he’d known Connolly was being allowed out on day release. He had not. The story had emerged when Connolly went to court to apply to have his driving ban overturned. The judge, Robert Orme, said, ‘I don’t know what is going on with the Prison Service. A man gets eight years in 2007, and here he is on day release in 2009.’
The other members of the gang received various shorter sentences for burglary.
Extracted from Beyond the Call of Duty by Ben Ando and Nick Kinsella, published by Constable. Copyright © 2013 Ben Ando & Nick Kinsella. Buy a copy of the book, here.