8 October 2021
A Derbyshire police officer who put his life on the line to save thousands of others will be honoured next week at the national Police Bravery Awards 2020.
PC Geoff Marshall has been nominated for the awards, which are organised by the Police Federation of England and Wales, for his courage in helping to prevent the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir from collapsing and overwhelming the town of Whaley Bridge below.
The awards ceremony was due to be held in London in July last year but was postponed due to the pandemic. It will now be staged next Tuesday (12 October). A total of 94 brave officers from forces across England and Wales are in line for an award.
Geoff was put forward by the Force’s Operational Support Department and selected as its nominee by the Branch Board of Derbyshire Police Federation.
The tense and dramatic events at the reservoir 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. 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. 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 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.
“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.”
Geoff 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, Geoff 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 devastating breach.
“There were many officers involved in the incident and I would like to acknowledge their bravery and outstanding efforts too but Geoff 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.
Geoff has since received 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.
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.