As a police motorcyclist, Paul Gough spent years on two wheels until a series of injuries on duty ended his career. Now in retirement, he’s back on a bike of a different kind, thanks to a grant from Police Care UK.
Like so many officers, Paul Gough joined the police with a desire to help people. A former member of the armed forces he was keen to continue his public service, so after more than eight years in the Gulf, Canada and Northern Ireland, Paul took a temporary job in a wallpaper factory while he set about applying to become a police officer.
He was successful and specialised as a traffic officer, regularly responding to emergency calls on his police motorbike. Then one day, Paul became the emergency.
He explained: “A call came in about a serious accident in Lancaster requiring a Family Liaison Officer, which is one of the roles that I volunteered to do. So, I set off on the motorbike with the emergency equipment going and took the decision to go through a red light; Lancaster was very busy at the time, so I slowed down as I went.”
As Paul made his way through the junction a car collided with his bike, sending him over the handlebars. He landed in the road and slid into the back of a transit van, his chest hitting a metal step on the back of the vehicle. Despite the collision happening at low speed, Paul broke his forearm and several ribs, received hairline fractures to his wrists and bruised his liver.
He was off work for six months while he recovered from his injuries but was itching to return and get back on his bike. Paul passed his refresher course easily and so attempted the more advanced security escort course. The route took him through several major junctions, his confidence dipped, and he failed the course.
Some eighteen months later Paul felt read to take the security escort course for the second – and as it turns out – last time. Once again, a car collided with Paul’s bike. This time he sustained a broken shoulder and several broken ribs.
When he returned to the traffic unit after three months off work, Paul learned he wouldn’t ride a police motorbike again.
“I was very disappointed to start with,” Paul said. “I felt the decision to take me off the bikes completely – even basic patrol work – was a bit harsh but looking back now I do understand.”
Paul remained on the traffic unit, swapping two wheels for four. This may have come as a relief to his family, but they were to receive one more phone call telling them Paul had been rushed to hospital.
“I came on to a night shift and received information about a disqualified driver,” said Paul. “I went out in the plain car, single-crewed and managed to stop him. When I had him secured in handcuffs in the back of my car I went back to the other car to recover it. The front seat passenger became uncooperative and quite abusive.”
When Paul arrested the man for a Public Order offence he began to struggle. Paul called for back-up and managed to hold the man securely against a wall until he heard the sirens which heralded the arrival of his colleagues.
“As I turned my head he put one of his feet flat against the wall and launched me backwards. As I’ve gone back, I’ve got my left foot stuck on the pavement. My body twisted round and my foot was facing in the opposite direction.”
The bones securing Paul’s foot to his ankle had snapped and he suffered a spiral fracture to his leg. After almost six hours in surgery, Paul emerged plated and pinned, and facing the prospect of learning to walk again.
He returned to work after a gruelling recovery lasting fourteen months but took stock of his situation and put in for ill-health retirement. He was placed on light duties which was a huge culture shock but a move he believed helped prepare him for retirement. He said:
“At the time, it was horrendous. I hated it. I was looking for things to do, trying to take workloads off my colleagues, taking statements and stuff like that but it just wasn’t the same. Looking back now, it was quite a good transition really to be part of the organisation but not having an active role.”
While on light duties Paul spoke to a colleague who volunteers with Police Care UK. He explained the support available and suggested Paul registered. When he received a mailing from the charity, Paul, who had previously been a keen cyclist, decided to apply for a grant towards an exercise bike so he could maintain his mobility and fitness.
Paul didn’t expect to be successful and says he was ‘gobsmacked’ to receive a Nordic Track bike. The equipment not only helps him to manage the osteoarthritis that has developed in his ankle but he says it helps his mental wellbeing too: “when you’re on it you just lose yourself and then you get off and you feel less stressful or anxious.”
“I think I’m on the lower tier of people that need help; there are some officers out there that are a lot worse than me,” he said: “You could almost be accused of being a bit selfish by getting things like this, but I don’t know. Sometimes you’ve got to look after number one before you can look after anyone else.
Several years ago, Paul was learning to walk again. Now, he’s looking forward to walking down the aisle; all three of his daughters are getting married in the next twelve months.
“In the last couple of years things have got easier and I can just devote my time to my family now.”