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Queen's commendation for bravery awarded to Border Force officers

Four Border Force officers have been honoured for saving the lives of 63 people during two incidents in the English Channel and the Mediterranean Sea.

In this year’s Civilian Gallantry list, published today (19 July), Gareth Leadbetter, David Sant, Lee Townsend and Stuart Woodland have been given Queen’s Commendations for Bravery.

Gareth was recognised for his actions during the early hours of 29 May, 2016. That night, the Border Force vessel HM Cutter Valiant was patrolling the English Channel near Dungeness when a search and rescue operation was initiated after midnight to locate a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) with possible migrants on board that was in distress.

The RHIB was located by a search and rescue helicopter east of Dungeness with HMC Valiant arriving on the scene within minutes.

Gareth was the coxswain of HMC Valiant’s boarding boat that night and displayed exceptional leadership and coxswain skills in ensuring everyone on board was transferred onto the cutter in extremely demanding conditions.

Gordon Scarratt, Head of Border Force Maritime Command, said:

By making the correct operational decisions Gareth was able to rescue the people and recover them to his ship, saving their lives in the process. This involved three separate runs to and from the sinking vessel and three launches and recoveries of his boat onto the cutter – an extremely dangerous manoeuvre, made all the more hazardous in the poor weather.

Of the 20 people rescued, 2 on board – the only ones wearing life jackets – were subsequently convicted of people smuggling offences in relation to the incident.

David, Lee and Stuart were recognised for their actions on the night of 21 and 22 January 2016, when a Border Force vessel was on patrol off the Greek Island of Farmakonisi supporting search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

Just before midnight the alarm was raised as a large wooden fishing boat, which had been heading towards Farmakonisi from Turkey, foundered on the rocky coastline.

The Border Force vessel immediately launched two rescue craft. Lee was on board the Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) alongside a commercial coxswain while Stuart, David and another commercial coxswain were on board the larger Daughter Craft (DC). Both rescue boats sped to the scene, in total darkness and in poor weather with an observed 1.5m swell and crashing waves on the rocks.

Doug McLellan from Border Force added:

On arrival at the scene they were confronted by a wreck, with many people in the water. In full knowledge of the danger that they themselves were in, the FRC crew immediately pulled a boy and girl from the water.

The DC crew similarly put themselves at risk to begin recovering people from the water. At this point both the FRC and DC both lost power due to the floating debris. Despite both vessels, now helpless, being driven towards the rocks, the crews continued to administer CPR on those they had rescued. David, Lee and Stuart each displayed exemplary acts of bravery, dedication and commitment to save 43 lives.

Published 19 July 2018