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Posted on Tuesday 28 June 2022
nightshift A19

It’s barely two minutes into Sgt Chris Milburn’s nightshift briefing with A Relief when the radio pings “multiple vehicle RTC on the A19”.

Everyone jumps up out of their seats as an officer replies “yes yes, we're all on our way”.

The officers, from the force’s Roads and Armed Policing Team, hastily make their way out of their base at Spennymoor Police Station and within ten minutes they’re 16 miles away near Easington on the A19 where there’s been a five-car pile-up in the outside lane.

Thankfully no one is seriously injured, but they’re immediately confronted with several young drivers and passengers in shock, and families appearing on scene causing unintended complications on a dangerous main road.

The team immediately get to work checking everyone is ok, and taking down the details of all those involved; while PCSOs from the local neighbourhood policing team help control the traffic in the one remaining open lane.

After a short while recovery is arranged, those involved escorted away from the scene to safety and around an hour later the road is fully reopened.

“This is just what we do and you have an automatic response when this kind of call comes in,” Sgt Milburn, who is now in his eighteenth year of service, says. “You see a lot and every job is unique but you know you’re probably going to be one of the first people to help that person who has made that 999 call and that’s never lost on you.”

The night is still young when another call comes in from care workers unable to check on the welfare of a man in distress who refuses to come out of his house so they can ensure that he is OK.

Shortly beforehand the man was told the devastating news that his sister had harmed herself, and his care workers are justifiably worried he too is having a breakdown causing him to relapse with his own mental health, and potentially drink and drugs as well.

Despite the team’s best efforts to encourage the man to open the door himself, in the end they are forced to break his door chain so the care workers can give him the support he needs.

Sgt Milburn says: “Sadly a lot of the jobs we attend now are related to mental health and it’s something officers are constantly attending to – policing is a lot more than just solving crime, and you have to be so adaptable when you are trying to help people.”

Despite what they see, the officers get straight back out on patrol, covering hundreds of miles of the force area, from the towns and Durham City, to the rural communities and former pit villages, on alert for anything suspicious while many of the residents are sound asleep.

Throughout the night Sgt Milburn pulls over several vehicles that are acting suspiciously - from welfare checks on drivers that have broken down, to even giving some friendly Northern directions to a man from London who got lost in Durham City while visiting his daughter who is studying in the region.

At around 2am another emergency call comes across the radio – a two-vehicle collision in Wingate and one driver has made off.

On scene, Sgt Milburn takes details from the remaining driver and checks she is ok before noticing a fire engine race past.Putting his bet on that the other car isn’t far away, he follows and sure enough, finds the car believed to be involved in the collision, on fire in some woods at the back of a housing estate.

A call from other officers in the team confirms the car had been reported stolen shortly before the collision, with the victim’s bank cards also being taken in the suspected two-in-one burglary.

The investigation then turns to CCTV evidence as the bank cards are traced having been used at a service station and a suspect is identified – all within an hour of the crash.

A man in his 20s was arrested that night and charged with six offences including burglary, fraud, theft and interfering with a vehicle. He was remanded into custody and put before the courts on Monday morning, and is now awaiting trial at Durham Crown Court.

It’s now 4am and after more patrols up and down the force area, Sgt Milburn returns to the office to start some paperwork from the night’s events – his briefing never did get finished.

Shortly before his team are meant to finish, another 999 call comes in – a woman in distress on the A1(M) – her car has burst into flames.Again, the team rush to the scene, working with colleagues in the fire service to get the woman to safety and put out the fire which has completely engulfed her car.

Officers stay with her until colleagues from Highways England arrive at the scene and put a slow rolling roadblock on the remaining traffic who are directed past the car in the one open lane.

“In the Roads and Armed Policing world, you never know what’s going to come in next and you’re always kept on your toes,” Sgt Milburn said. “It’s a tough job – exhausting, demanding and stressful at times – but always worthwhile. There’s no other job like it, and I'm genuinely privileged to work with - and do my best to lead - such fantastic officers.”

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