Derbyshire Police Federation

Brave PC in line for award after critical role in preventing dam disaster

24 September 2020

A Derbyshire police officer who put his life on the line to save thousands of others has been nominated for a national award for his ‘outstanding bravery’.

PC Geoff Marshall has been nominated for the Police Bravery Awards for his courage in helping to prevent the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir from collapsing and overwhelming the town of Whaley Bridge below. He was put forward for the award by the Force’s Operational Support and selected as its nominee by Derbyshire Police Federation.

The tense and dramatic events began on Thursday 1 August 2019 and were played out across the world’s media. Days of heavy rain had sent water raging over the dam wall, taking with it a huge section of the structure.

Engineers estimated it was likely that the entire 250-metre long dam would fail sending billions of litres of water onto the town.

Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton said: “There is no doubt this would have led to significant loss of life.”

The emergency operation kicked in with officers in the potential flood area evacuating 1,000 people in the middle of Whaley Bridge from their homes and businesses. At the dam, it was critical that sandbagging was completed to try to prevent the structure from collapsing.

As heavy rain continued to fall, a plan was drawn up to put hundreds of sandbags in place to divert water away from the damaged section.

Tony said: “The sandbagging needed to be performed by a member of staff on the actual spillway and others on a metal bridge passing the bags down.”

He added: “Engineers briefed the police officers and several volunteer members of mountain rescue that should certain tell-tale signs be visible either on the water or on the downstream side, that they would have between 45 seconds and a minute to evacuate the entire area before the dam wall would collapse beneath their feet.

“In reality, were the dam to have failed it is highly unlikely any of those involved in the sandbagging operation would have survived. The control measures such as ropes and personal flotation devices provided some protection in the event of an officer falling into the water rather than the dam failing.

“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.”

PC Marshall volunteered to work on the spillway and secured himself with a rope while his colleagues passed the bags down.

For around two hours, officers and mountain rescue worked to place sandbags on the wall and buy enough time to temporarily secure the reservoir.

As he worked on the dam, colleagues who were looking out for signs the dam was beginning to breach suddenly shouted at him to get off.

Tony said: “At this point, PC Marshall was positioned on the spillway, secured with a rope and was at significant risk and there was a delay in him being unsecured so he could make his way off safely.”

He added: “Actions of officers completing the sandbagging operation on the spillway undoubtedly reduced further erosion to the dam wall and prevented a breach.

“There were numerous officers involved in the incident and I would like to acknowledge their bravery and outstanding efforts too but PC Marshall went over and above the call of duty while thankfully supported by his colleagues.”

The following morning an RAF Chinook helicopter was deployed and, over the next five days, 530 tonnes of aggregate were used to reinforce the dam wall.

After a tense seven days, the dam wall was repaired and the water pumped out.

PC Marshall, who has been an officer for 26 years, is to receive a Chief Constable’s commendation.

The superhuman efforts were recognised publicly by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who visited Whaley Bridge and nearby villages. Indeed, during the operation, a COBRA meeting was held by the Government to provide support and oversight.

Tony said: “PC Marshall showed outstanding bravery and selflessness in an extreme situation. Our humble nominee would be the first to say that the whole, unprecedented event was a team effort and there are a whole army of people and organisations to recognise. The enormity of their service and actions will be appreciated for many, many years to come.”

The annual Police Bravery Awards, sponsored by Police Mutual, honour some of the finest officers in England and Wales who have performed incredible acts of bravery, while on or off duty. 

This year’s ceremony, which was due to be held in London in July, was postponed due to the pandemic, but will be staged on Thursday 15 July next year. A total of 94 brave officers from forces across England and Wales have been put forward for an award.

John Perks, chief executive officer of Police Mutual, said in a message to all nominees: “Police Mutual is, as always, proud to be supporting the National Police Bravery Awards in its 25th anniversary year.

“Despite having to postpone the original ceremony, your courage was never forgotten and it goes without saying to all of the nominees from 2019 that your commitment to keeping the public safe in the most demanding of circumstances shows unlimited bravery and resilience. 

“This is something each and every one of you should be immensely proud of, as I and all of my colleagues at Police Mutual are on a daily basis when we see how hard your roles can be. We very much look forward to meeting you in July 2021 for the ceremony and our chance to give our thanks in person.”

John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “We are incredibly proud of all the nominees from across England and Wales. The actions of these courageous officers provide a small snapshot of the amazing work our colleagues carry out day in and day out.

“They say true bravery is knowing the risks and doing something anyway – rarely has there been a better example of that than PC Geoff Marshall’s actions at Whaley Bridge. Fully aware of the risks, he volunteered to stand for hours at the most vulnerable point on a dam that could have burst at any moment.

“He knew if the dam burst there would be little or no warning and little or no chance that he would survive.  Yet he volunteered anyway, in order to save countless lives, homes and businesses. His incredible bravery, and humility, in crediting the operations success to a ‘team effort’ should be an inspiration to us all.

“As a Police Federation, we wanted to make sure these brave officers receive the recognition they deserve in the year their actions were meant to be celebrated. We look forward to seeing them all in person – and revealing regional and national winners - when the time is right in 2021.”




October 2022