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A Derbyshire police officer who risked his life to prevent a dam from collapsing and sending billions of gallons of water to a nearby town has won an award for his bravery.

PC Geoff Marshall risked his life to save thousands at Whaley Bridge amid fears a dam at nearby Toddbrook Reservoir could burst.

He received the honor at the Police Bravery Awards in Downing Street on Tuesday, in a ceremony delayed by more than a year due to the pandemic.

“It was really nice to get some recognition for that, and I’m very proud to have helped the people at Whaley Bridge,” said Marshall. “I always had in mind that there was a risk, but I was just focusing on the job. Although at one point there was a big splash of water and I thought I was screwed. “

Marshall’s heroic act followed days of heavy rains in 2019 that caused water to leap over the dam wall and destroy sections of the structure. Engineers estimated that it was likely that the entire 250-meter-long dam would fail without quick action.

Derbyshire Police Federation President Tony Wetton, who nominated Marshall for the award, said: “There is no doubt that this would have resulted in significant loss of life.

“Geoff, along with many fellow Derbyshire Police officers who rushed to Whaley Bridge to do their utmost to protect the public and the town, displayed exceptional bravery and selflessness in an extreme situation . The enormity of their service and actions will be appreciated for many years to come.

Marshall volunteered to install hundreds of sandbags through the structure to divert water from the damaged section and was “the last link in the chain”. The team learned that in the event of a collapse, they would have between 45 seconds and a minute to evacuate before the dam wall gave way, although Marshall said that in his place, it could have fallen instantly.

“In reality, if the dam had failed, it is highly unlikely that any of the people involved in the sandbagging operation would have survived,” Wetton said. “All the officers present elected that they could not stand idly by and risk the death of an estimated 2,000 people, including colleagues, without doing anything.”

A total of 94 officers from the Armed Forces of England and Wales were nominated for an award at the annual event. Other winners included West Midlands Police Officer Paul Newman, who fought off a suspect who tried to tear his eyes out as he attempted to apprehend him in a storm sewer filled with water.