PC Andrew Bird, PC Zhak Burrows, PC Matthew Cutts, PC Stephen Gunshon, PC Megan Rees, PC Mark Thomas and Chief Inspector Jonathan Baldwin had been deployed to apprehend a prolific offender in Basildon in May 2019 when they were attacked.
Earlier, officers at a memorial event on Canvey Island had received reports of a man riding a stolen motorbike. They followed him to the Somercotes estate in Basildon where they were confronted by a hostile crowd of more than 30 people.
As our officers made the arrest, the man’s mother ran towards them, armed with a hammer. She was disarmed and detained but then another man ran out, tackled one of our officers to the ground and assaulted him.
Colleagues came to the officer’s aid but a second man, Justin Jackson, then appeared from the crowd carrying a large watering can full of petrol and poured it over them.
Two officers swallowed petrol and were hospitalised, two had to have their eyes rinsed and the others sustained superficial burns to their skin despite being hosed down to prevent more serious injuries.
Justin Jackson was later jailed for three years and nine months for the attack.
PC Zhak Burrows says the incident will live with him forever. “I had petrol in my eyes and over my face and I was immediately blinded.
“To start with, I thought it was acid.
“The crowd were cheering and shouting, ‘Light them up.’ I couldn’t see and all I could hear was screaming and officers shouting ‘Petrol’ and ‘No Taser!’ One spark and we would all have had life-changing injuries. I cannot describe the fear of death.
“PC Matt Cutts struck the man holding the petrol can with his baton. It saved my life.”
Despite the volatile situation, local residents immediately came to our officers’ aid by bringing out buckets of water and letting them use their showers.
Reflecting on the day, Chief Inspector Jonathan Baldwin vividly remembers the ‘incredible show of support’ from colleagues when the call for assistance was put out and also the importance of the help his team was offered in the aftermath.
He says: “Looking back, what strikes me is the camaraderie. People were proud to have been there for each other.
“Afterwards, the Trauma Risk Management process was really important. It was immediate and effective. We all had things to process differently and we were able to do that.
“There was also a massive of outpouring of support from the local community. Not one of those officers who were doused in petrol missed a day’s work as a result.”
After presenting the commendations, Mr Harrington said: “This was a shocking and cowardly attack on a group of officers who were simply trying to do their jobs. The officers displayed extraordinary courage and professionalism in a volatile situation and risked their own safety to support their colleagues.
“Events like this are a reminder of the dangers our officers can face and the prison sentence given to the individual who threw the petrol reflects the seriousness of his crime. All of the officers involved thoroughly deserve this acknowledgement for their outstanding bravery.”