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River rescue officer gets bravery award

PUBLISHED: 11:52 02 May 2003 | UPDATED: 13:48 03 March 2010

BRAVE police dog handler Neil Smith has been given a top lifesaving honour after saving a drowning woman from the freezing River Orwell.

The 36-year-old used a dog's lead to lower himself onto a tiny ledge and clung on to the woman for 15 minutes to keep her afloat before they were both rescued.

BRAVE police dog handler Neil Smith has been given a top lifesaving honour after saving a drowning woman from the freezing River Orwell.

The 36-year-old used a dog's lead to lower himself onto a tiny ledge and clung on to the woman for 15 minutes to keep her afloat before they were both rescued.

His incredible bravery on a freezing cold December night prompted the award and he is to receive a Royal Humane Society Testimonial on Parchment for his efforts.

It was just after 11pm on December 14 that Pc Smith and other officers were called to the riverbank near Stoke Bridge, Ipswich following reports that a woman had fallen in.

First to the scene, Pc Smith found the woman in a distressed state, standing on an underwater ledge no more than a foot wide, up to her ribs in water and clinging to a small piece of chain attached to the wall.

Fetching his dog tracking lead from his van he tied it to a ring set in a concrete wall and, knowing that he would not be able to get back unaided, he climbed down the dog lead into the water, just managing to get his toes on the ledge.

He then held on to the woman for 15 minutes until the fire brigade arrived, but by then the woman had collapsed and he was too cold and exhausted to help haul himself up.

A rope was lowered which he tied first around the woman and then around himself and they were pulled to safety.

Both were treated in hospital for the effects of cold but neither suffered any serious injury.

As well as the award Pc Smith also won the personal praise of Major General Christopher Tyler, secretary of the Royal Humane Society.

He said: "This was a remarkable feat of endurance by Mr Smith.

"It's the sort of thing they put into action drama films but not the sort of thing you often hear about in real life.

"To first lower himself onto a tiny ledge with a dog lead with no hope of getting back without help, and then to cling on for a quarter of an hour while clutching a collapsed woman in freezing cold water and fighting a current that threatened to sweep them both away is just incredible.

"He is a credit to the force and thoroughly deserves his award."

Pc Smith was nominated for the award by Suffolk police, but he remains modest about his feat.

"I just did what the next person would have done.

"If it hadn't been me there at that time, it would have been someone else," he said.

Inspector Adrian Dawson, who leads the dog unit at Suffolk police, said: "We are extremely proud to have an officer of his calibre working for this organisation and recognised with this prestigious award."

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