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Monday November 24

Lorna Dennison-Wilkins

Lorna Dennison-Wilkins

Sergeant Lorna - Specialist Search

I'm Lorna, the Sergeant of Sussex Police Specialist Search Unit. You can find out more information about me, the unit I belong to or the SSU team by visiting the links. You can also learn about the different terms I use in my blog by reading my glossary.

My blog

Friday 27 June 15:46

Why It's Great To Collaborate

Since the merger of Surrey and Sussex Operations Command the SSU and the Dog Unit have worked closely together to train some existing Surrey victim recovery dogs into Drowned Victim Detection Dogs (DVDD’s), these dogs have been licensed externally and are now fully operational.  Victim recovery dogs have previously only been used to find missing people, body parts or blood on land so it was different for both the handlers and the dogs to be working in a marine environment. 
A DVDD searches for scent emanating from a drowned person as gas molecules and particles of skin or tissue are released into the water during decomposition.  The dog is deployed to scent the air over the water and may taste the water itself.  The dog indicates when it detects the presence of this scent in the water and from this we are able to pinpoint an area to search.
With the vicitm recovery dogs from Surrey and the marine and diving capability we have on the SSU, the work towards developing DVDD capability in Surrey and Sussex Joint Operations Department was inexpensive and simple.    The benefits to us developing this capability include: Narrowing down a search area with the DVDD’s which would require less diving time enhancing safety and reducing cost.  We enhance our effectiveness at finding bodies by reducing a potential search area or being able to locate an area before conditions change and the body moves. The most important benefit will always be to the family of those that are missing in water, minimising the size of the search areas using Drowned Victim Detection Dogs will provide an earlier resolution to the suffering that the loved ones of missing people have to endure.
We first used the DVDD on a operational deployment a while ago when we got called to a lake where a person was thought to have drowned, we called the DVDD out and PS Chris Sutherland attended with his dog Jess.  We took Chris and Jess out in our boat to survey the area of water.   Jess indicated strongly on an area in the lake and following this indication we used our side scan sonar in the pinpointed area and we found an anomaly.  Following these two positive traces we dived under the water and found the body after just 22 minutes of searching. The family of the missing person were on the side of the lake watching us and waiting for news.  I was thankful that they didn’t have to wait too long.
I’m enthusiastic about the fact we get to work with Surrey now.  It hardly cost anything to get the fantastic asset of the Drowned Victim Detection Dogs because both Forces combined what we had and shared resources.  This was an excellent result and an example of effective joint working and using our assets to the best of our ability.

Friday 27 June 15:19

I love this photo of Moomin, Daz, Bret and Quinny in the dive van. We were on a break during a diving operation during which we were doing long hours. We may get tired and sometimes our work is mentally tough, but spirits are always high.

Monday 7 April 09:11

Why we are proud that Scott is running.


We are a ‘man down’ this week on the SSU. Scott (our most recent addition) is away from work. He has chosen to attempt the biggest physical challenge probably of his life and known to Man - the Marathon de Sables (MDS).

When he told me what he was doing I had never heard of the Marathon de Sables and because I knew him to be a marathon runner I thought it was one marathon in the desert, hard enough I thought!  Scott told me that it wasn’t one marathon, it is six marathons, in the searing heat of the desert, when you are carrying all of your food and kit in a rucksack on your back - it is known as the toughest footrace on earth.

I have the utmost admiration for anyone undertaking any personal challenge but this is truly epic.  If you want to know more about how tough the Marathon de Sables is you can click on the link (above) and see this inspiring video here.

You can read Scott’s personal blog entry about his journey and the charity he is doing the MDS for here.

We are going to be sending messages of support to Scott while he is away and will be wishing him all the best. Good luck Scotty!!

Thursday 6 March 12:49

Joint Working with the Fire Service in the Surrey Floods


Everybody knows that because the Police and the Fire Service are both emergency services we have a lot in common but during the recent floods in Surrey we worked closer than ever together and it went brilliantly so I’m writing about it in my blog.  (You can see what the SSU did in Surrey in my previous blog ‘Q and A: Operation Franklin - Working In The Surrey Floods’).

Traditionally we have had a general guideline that if a rescue needs doing it’s a Fire Service tasking and if it’s a recovery, it’s ours. Where it’s not clearly defined what the incident is, we all work together to get the best possible outcome.  We’ve been to Surrey many times before on diving operations (sadly) and at each job we would always bump into the fire crew from the nearest station.  Over time we got to know that the fire officers were supportive and helpful, assisting with lighting, logistics and teamwork of getting kit to and from the scene.  On one occasion, after diving into the night we slept on the floor at Walton on Thames Fire Station so imagine my surprise when we found ourselves back there again on the first day of our response to the floods.


We do the same swift water qualification as the Fire Service and have the same kit so we teamed up with the ‘Walton Crew’ to rescue people from their flooded homes in Walton, Shepperton and surrounds.  We worked with a mixture of SSU and fire service officers in different teams and if the fire team weren’t available and a call came in to the fire station it would be allocated to us by the silver command and we would go alone, updating the Fire Service Control Room when it was completed and then taking the next job.  Some days we were tasked by a Fire Service water incident officer on the ground.  The Fire Service were really well organised – they had split Surrey into three different areas and had command centres at each – coordinating the efforts with all the available resources, overseeing this was a central overall command at Guildford where senior officers from all the services and agencies were situated.  We saw some of the same fire officers we had recognised from previous visits to Surrey, all of the officers we saw worked their socks off, day after day.  They were so accommodating to us, they gave us use of all of their facilities at the fire stations and didn’t mind when we came in at 1130PM and made noise cooking stir fry in their kitchen in our onesies and then slept on their floor (again).  Although they joked that we were using their place like a hotel I know we’d be welcome back there any time.

We’ve always done training across many of our disciplines with the Fire Service in Sussex and have worked together on jobs in both Sussex and Surrey.  I have much respect for our Fire Service colleagues and I want to say ‘thank you’ to them and to say how great it is that joint working worked for Us.

Wednesday 26 February 20:08

Q and A: Operation Franklin - Working In The Surrey Floods.


I was asked some questions by the Surrey media office and I thought I’d publish my reply as a blog post. I had wanted to write about my experiences working in Surrey on Operation Franklin but I didn’t know where to start! Here is what I was asked:

What was your exact role during the operation?

We used our swift water technician training (to work in flooded water incidents) and kit to ensure the safety, welfare and security of Surrey residents and their homes during the floods.   For the first two days we worked with the Fire Service to rescue people from their homes.  We did this by entering the flooded areas by wading alongside our boat, assisting people from their houses onto the boat and then evacuating them from the flood hit area.  After the initial rescues had taken place we worked with our police colleagues to check vulnerable people who may have been stranded in their homes with no wish to evacuate, to evacuate those that did and to carry out welfare and security patrols in the flooded areas.

This was the first major incident working in collaboration with Sussex; how do you think a precedent was set for future operations?

Because we do underwater search and recovery and rope access as two of our eight roles, the Specialist Search Unit has worked in Surrey before, but this was the first time that I had seen Sussex colleagues and vehicles in Surrey and we had all worked as one.  Although some of our paperwork and computer systems may vary from Force to Force, I believe that fundamentally in an operational and philosophical sense we are the same.  I dealt with communications staff, support staff and police officers who were employed by Surrey Police but recognised no difference to the transactions that I would have had with Sussex Police colleagues.  Essentially, regardless of which Force we were from we all had a common purpose to ensure the safety and welfare of people and protect property.  Our values and aims will also be the same for future operations.


What is your most memorable moment?

I won’t forget the kindness and spirit of the Surrey residents we met.  We spent 91 hours on duty in our first week there and ten days overall.  Everyone was positive in their interaction with us, even though they were experiencing difficult times.  On day two we were offered a cup of tea by a family in a flooded street, they had moved all their furniture and the water was seeping in their back door and steadily rising.  We hadn’t had a drink for 13 hours so that was the best cup of tea I’ve ever had.

We evacuated a mother and child from a flooded house, the little boy was called Lewis.  His mum dressed him in a coat, hat and Wellington boots but he was too scared to put our life jacket on.  After some reassurance I managed to get the lifejacket on him and lifted him into the boat so he could sit in his car seat.  He looked so tiny! I won’t forget the look on his face when he saw his dad waiting for them both on dry land with the family car.

Because we were in the flooded areas day after day we got to know the names of some of the people there and a little bit about them.  It was a privilege to be able to help the people we encountered.


What was your most challenging moment?

Because we did so many hours and in the early days we didn’t get to eat, the working conditions were hard.  It had been bin collection day in most of the areas the night they were flooded so we were wading in black water with floating bins and rubbish underfoot.  It was quite unsettling as you didn’t know where you were walking or what you were stepping on but we used poles to guide us.  Sometimes in the daylight if there was some visibility in the water you would see koi carp swimming in the street and swans and ducks on top - it was very strange.
My two most challenging moments were where I felt sad.  The first was when we drove past a sand delivery on a corner of a street near the floods. I saw all the residents crowding around with wheelie bins and wheelbarrows to transport whatever sandbags they could get, the sight just struck me as profoundly upsetting which was probably as a result of many days of dealing with flood affected people.  I thought about the impact on those that had been affected by the floods and also about the elderly or vulnerable people who would not have been able to get to the collection point. 
The second was when we found a 92 year old man in a house. His house was dry but his road was deep under water so he was stranded, he had no family or support.  Every day we went and checked on him and he always said he was fine and didn’t need anything. I asked him what he had to eat and I could tell he didn’t have much. He was obviously too proud to say he needed some supplies so I went and bought him some anyway and we dropped them round the next day.

Wednesday 26 February 15:53

This is a picture of us evacuating a family of five and their dog (called Bruno) from a flooded house. You can see Jimbo at the door of the house - he gave lots of firemans lifts that day! We had to get our boat in the neighbour’s garden and lift the family and Bruno over the fence as we couldn’t get access to their house.

Wednesday 26 February 15:49

This is our Team at the edge of one of the flooded areas in Surrey.  We worked there for ten days during the worst of the floods. (From left to right: Quinny, Bret, Me, Rick, Darran, Scotty and Moomin)

Friday 3 January 21:09

Positive Thoughts About The Great British Weather And Other Things...

Home time at the Base

 You don’t half get bashed about by the weather working on the SSU.  Come rain or shine you’re out there in the elements but I’m not an indoor person so for me this was part of the appeal of the job.  Working outside, doing physical stuff, especially in harsh weather saps your energy and it makes me want to eat all day long (which is problematic when you don’t always have an opportunity to get food).  All of the times I can remember  in my life when I’ve been the coldest, hungriest, tiredest, anxious and most uncomfortable have been when I have been on duty as a Police Officer.

 When the going gets tough, I’m lucky enough to thrive on the challenge of surviving it. The colder you are on a dive job, the nicer it is to get back to a warm dive lorry and the sweeter your cup of hot tea tastes. The hungrier you are after a day searching without a break the more satisfying the team curry is at the end of your shift, the more apprehensive you are about undertaking a difficult task the more rewarding it is to know you were strong enough to overcome your fear and do what you needed to do. I’ve had countless nights where I have slept on my office floor between shifts and I spent four hours sleeping on some diving socks in a filing cupboard at Walton-on-Thames Fire Station, they were some of the best sleeps I’ve ever had - just because I was so exhausted.

 So, these hardships are not so bad.  They remind me that for each of them that I endure I’m rewarded with some of the simple things in life, which really are pretty amazing if you look at them in the right way.

Monday 23 December 14:39

I like this photo which was taken at Chichester just before a dive. I am with Darran and Bret. Darran is the standby diver and Bret is an attendant. The rest of the SSU are elsewhere on site.

Monday 23 December 09:36

Darran on marine patrol. I took these pictures from a fishing boat. We meet such a variety of people on our patrols and have learnt a lot about our marine and fishing community.

Monday 23 December 09:34

View from the office window.  Although it can get a bit noisy working on the airport I appreciate views like this at home time.

Wednesday 20 November 17:46

A Bobby on a Bike's View on Safer Cycling


I love cycling, it makes me happy to be on a bike.  I commute to work and try and get on a bike most of the rest of the time, the freedom that cycling gives me both in a physical and metaphorical sense can’t be explained adequately in words.

Today I had an email from HQ about the increase in accidents lately where cyclists have been killed and injured.  It asked if those of us with social media could promote awareness of this and direct people to a Government webpage which has information on it aimed at promoting safety out on our roads. Interestingly it notes that the amount of incidents where cyclists have been injured has increased faster than the numbers of cyclists out on the roads.

I am always aware of safety when I’m out on my bike but it’s amazing just how vulnerable you still feel. I always stop at red lights, I obey the rules of the road, give pedestrians the right of way and always have consideration for everyone else but it’s surprising the attitudes that I come across from some motorists. I have had rubbish thrown at me from cars, been run off the road and had abuse shouted at me - purely because I’m on what that person considers to be ‘their’ bit of road. I just can’t work out why we can’t just share the space, which we all have a right to be on and look after each other.  I have done a fair bit of cycling in France the past few years, there you are revered as a cyclist and great care is taken to pass you safely and with courtesy, why is it not the same here? I’m not apportioning blame solely to the motorists as cyclists have a responsibility too but the attitude towards cycling is just different in the European countries I’ve been to.

I enjoy riding my bike and I like a challenge, sport is a great leveller and it’s not uncommon to ride your bike next to someone who you may not usually deal with in your day to day work.  This year I made up at team of Sussex Police officers who cycled from Beaconsfield (in Buckinghamshire) to Brighton with Leicestershire Police officers on a charity bike ride.  There were all ranks there including DCC Giles York and ACC Olivia Pinkney. When you ride with a group you are all cyclists regardless of where you came from and in the case of this charity ride we all had a common purpose.  I cycled Lands End to John O’ Groats in March, our group consisted of ‘lycra clad’ carbon cyclists, touring cyclists and one man called Peter who told us he hates cycling and only signed up for the journey so he could see the UK. He had a heavy bike, flat pedals and trainers and turned his nose up at “performance designer cycling gear” (as he called it). He rode the whole 1000 miles journey on his own, at about 9 miles an hour, looking like he was off down the shops to get a paper and a pint of milk and I loved him for it.   I’m inspired by the diversity in cycling and the fact that we are all cyclists, regardless of our age, ability, what bikes we ride or how far we go. I just want us all to be around to enjoy it for many years to come.

Maybe you’re a cyclist yourself, or you have come to understand why  people like Me love cycling.  I hope that this blog will convey the message that whatever our interests we should all look out for each other and be safe.

Wednesday 18 September 18:46

Alcohol Harm Reduction Week

This week is Alcohol Harm Reduction Week.   I noticed that lots of the references relating to the initiative focus on crime and injuries after night time drinking in town centres and the cost of dealing with such incidents.  I worked at Brighton in uniform before I came on this Unit and to say I saw a fair few examples of incidents that wouldn’t have occurred if alcohol hadn’t been involved is an understatement.  Any drive to minimise and prevent problems that arise as a result of alcohol intoxication can only be a good thing.

Much like World Suicide Prevention Day last week this is a subject close to my heart because of the work that I do.  During my time on the SSU we have recovered many bodies from the water and I have seen other deaths where that person would probably still be alive today if they had not consumed alcohol in the hours leading up to their death.

I’ve written a few blogs in the past about this subject, I even got told off by my Mum once for a miserable blog at Christmas time but I know that factually my argument that you are more at risk from drowning after drinking alcohol is correct.  

The charity Missing People published a paper in 2011 that was called ‘Going Missing on a Night Out: Men Found Dead in Water’ which explored the dangers that alcohol can bring. In a study in 2006/7 they identified 17 people who went missing in the UK following a night out, in all of these cases the person was found dead in water, all were male (Newis 2011).  The Missing People paper found that from January 2010 to April 2011, 22 men were reported to them as having gone missing after a night out and had been found dead in water, it said “…All people were last seen in, leaving, or having just left a nightclub, pub or bar.  Most were known to have been drinking…”.  Most of the samples cited by the Missing People paper have been found through a media tracking system, this doesn’t account for the host of incidents that don’t get highlighted though this means so it is logical to assume there will be many other cases unaccounted for.

Alcohol Harm Reduction Week aims to highlight the realities of dealing with drunkenness and alcohol related incidents, as well as the impact it has on the police service.  I think it’s a great initiative.  Over my fifteen years of being a police officer I have often thought ‘If only people really knew what we have to deal with’ so I guess this is our chance to try and explain.  I’ve seen the general impact that it has for us as a police service, day in, day out for 24 hours a day and now I see the more serious incidents that are life changing for the loved ones of those that are lost because of alcohol.

This week a national live Twitter feed will detail the alcohol related incidents that are attended in different police areas across the UK. You can find out more using the hashtag #alcoholharm. If you are not on Twitter you can catch up with press reports.

Tuesday 9 April 17:04

Just entering the water and testing my dive equipment…

Tuesday 19 March 14:39

Lack of Contact...

It’s been months since I have written a blog, there are reasons for this and there are fairly insignificant reasons why I decided to write one today.

Reasons why I haven’t written a blog for a long while:

As I have said before it’s just so busy here on the SSU. I need to juggle being an operational member of the team and the day to day running of the Unit which doesn’t leave much time for blog writing. When I have an idea of what I want to write about it usually doesn’t take long though as I’m quite quick at typing and some of them I do in my own time so I can only use that as half an excuse.

I want to write about subjects that I feel should be written about - some of you may judge me on what I find an inspiring subject if you have read some of my previous stuff but that’s the point of these isn’t it? You get to see a bit of the Sussex Police People as we really are - what makes us tick and sometimes you may not understand.

Another reason for finding it hard to blog is that certain local paper journalists read the SPP blogs and ring up the press office if you mention anything they may be able to get a story out of. Sadly, this has curtailed me being able to actively use Twitter, blogs and talk about lots of the stuff we go to - there are only so many times that you will be able to cope with the press office ringing you asking questions on behalf of a journalist when you’re at a scene in the thick of things and then regretting that you ever mentioned it - not to mention the upset this causes with the senior investigating officer who may not look favourably on the fact his or her operation has been referred to even though you took great care not to mention any specific details which could identify where you were working.

Why the return?

So, doughnuts and cakes (what else?!) are the reason for my return. Back in the beginning - when we did Sussex Police People Live I wrote a couple of articles about the experience and the reaction to it by the press. One thing noted in the Daily Telegraph by a journalist was our discussion of doughnuts and pastries during the live feed, he said the discussions were ‘banal and mundane’. This resulted in me writing a blog about this and there have been several more about baked goods since. My piece ‘Doughnuts and High Quality Pastries…’ discussed the significance of the ritual of doughnuts to us and the fact that you are either in or out with your understanding.

Rick was late today. We started at 7AM for a search commitment and he got the time wrong and thought we were in at 8AM. As the rest of us were in early we assumed Rick was having a prolonged visit to the toilet before his shift started (sorry to mention this but this is one of Rick’s characteristics that we know and love). We left for the search and rang Rick on the way. Rick arrived at the place we were searching an hour or so later having travelled by bus to our search location - naturally as he had made a mistake he had stopped by a well known bakers for the ‘punishment pastry purchase’. He was upset about being late anyway, but he described the shame of being in the bakers, in uniform, purchasing 8 apple turnovers feeling the knowing eyes of the bakery staff and queuing members of the public upon him because he had obviously committed a ‘doughnut offence’. I felt the only thing left to deal with Rick was a bit of public humiliation, hence mentioning his error in my blog - mean of me, I know, but he’s got to learn that he will never hear the last of it on a team like ours!

Final Word:

For anyone out there who is considering making a complaint that Rick has been late and has been purchasing apple turnovers which isn’t an effective use of tax-payers money, you can rest assured he will be more than making the time up at the end of the day. He is now sheepish and shame faced, £6.40 down and didn’t get a chance for his pre-shift ablutions which is more than punishment enough for today I think.

If any journalists from the well known local paper are reading this - today’s search was routine and nothing you would be interested in…

As for me - when I get time I’m going to compile all blogs and tweets with reference to doughnuts and high quality pastries and I’m going to email them all to the Telegraph journalist (if I can remember who he was).

As for you - I’ll do a more informative blog for you next time so you have both quality and a bit of quantity. I appreciate this one only falls into the latter category. Thank you for reading - as always!


Monday 17 December 17:59

Memories of a bakewell tart...


I went to a bakery today, as usual it was on the way home from a search when we were all starving and hadn’t eaten.  The type of visit when you rush in and buy lots because you’re hungry and then can never eat it all.  When we were inside at the counter Jonathan pointed to the cherry bakewells and said “This is the cherry bakewell shop”. “What do you mean?” I replied, “You know, the one when the man shot himself in the head”.  It was then that I was transported back to a job we had gone to where a man had indeed taken his own life and we had to go and deal with it.  I was there with such clear memories, of wearing a white SOCO suit to protect my uniform, sweating in the heat and doing what we needed to do.  I could remember it in such fine detail.  No matter how bad it was we got to a stage where we all needed to eat and Critch went to the bakery and got us cherry bakewell tarts.  And then we carried on….

It’s a strange thing the associations we make with tragic jobs we go to - obviously I’m not alone in doing this as Jonathan had made the link as well.  In the bakery this was recognised and we took a trip down memory lane and then nothing else was said.  I’m not sure why I’m writing this in a blog except to work through some questions in my mind, after all - does anybody read my blog? If you do are you thinking this is too personal or unsavoury? Does it sound like I’m slightly unhinged and rambling?!! (I know I’m not by the way, unhinged that is, I may be rambling…). Also, is this what the media office envisaged when they asked me to become one of the Sussex Police People and tell the story of what it is like to do my job in my own words?

I remember my first attendance to a suicide.  I was on late shift and it was years ago.  I was just about to cook my microwave meal and the call came in.  A person had been seen to jump from a viaduct, could we go, locate the body and flag down the ambulance and any witnesses?  For some reason I ran out of the kitchen and jumped in the car with Darren (my colleague) still holding my mirowave meal.  With limited options on what to do with it when Darren started driving at speed I shoved it in the glove box.  The job was grim, I still remember it well.  Afterwards my Moussaka remained uneaten and although I’d happily eat it now if presented with it I’ve never really eaten it since.

I suppose in our line of work such associations are inevitable.  They are memories that you have from time to time when you have dealt with stuff in the past, it happens with places too sometimes where a river or other place links you to a particularly tragic job.  We mention it and reminisce and then move on much like we do from day to day.  My point is that ideally it would be better to associate cherry bakewells with a summer’s day picnic and other foods with the first romantic dinner you cooked your other half but really my life’s not like that.

We all have tough times and we work through them in our own way.  For every challenging memory there are several hundred good ones and sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to have the perspective to see the happy and sad side to a cherry bakewell…

Friday 14 December 16:07

A snapshot of my week.

Just a quick note about this week as I’m due off in 26 minutes and still have loads left to do before I go.  The week has gone by as fast as any other and soon I will be cycling home against the wind, doing my thinking on the way (unless the phone rings between now and then!).

My week started with a great meeting on Monday morning with some colleagues from the RNLI about how to share our knowledge and data about deaths in water to contribute to trying to prevent such tragedies occurring in the future.

Operationally this week, the SSU and I have searched; under a house in a confined space, in outbuildings on a plot of land, some vehicles, a river, a wooded area and an open area as well as a plot of land with lakes on. We have also done our three yearly sea survival recertification which involved a theory input and a practical session in the pool.

My week has ended this afternoon with another good meeting with the sergeant on the Hampshire Marine Unit about how we may be able to work more closely together to be more efficient and save money. I’m excited about the potential here, we are moving with the times and in this case change is good.

Most of the week has been a high point except for when I found that my boots leaked whilst searching a field filled with raw sewage and getting up at 0430AM on Wednesday for our search that day.  The worst bit though? Having to see Rick in his tiny Speedos during the practical session of the sea survival course.  No matter what I have to deal with in this job I just don’t get paid enough for that!!!

Here’s to a quiet weekend.  I’m not (offically) on call this weekend and so am off to see my parents as I won’t see them at Christmas.

I hope your weekend is as peaceful as I’d like mine to be!


Wednesday 5 December 18:13

Change is good...

I haven’t done a blog for a while as I’ve just been so busy.  Keeping up with operational duties and stuff inside the office is a juggling act at the best of times.  Also it’s not always right for me to tweet or blog about jobs that we do -either out of sensitivity for family and friends or for confidentiality issues if it’s a crime job.  

This week started off with us being called out to recover the body of a man who had drowned and it reminded me how tragic it is when we go to find a family’s loved one.  

About this time last year I did a blog called Early Festive Greetings. My Mum (who used to read my blogs at the time) rang me up and told me it was miserable.  No one likes to be told off by their Mum at aged 35 so I read it back to myself and decided actually she was right.  I suppose any excuse that I may have is that at this time of year I become more reflective, the amount of body recoveries we do usually increases and this makes me a bit sad and eager to continue to do what I can to reduce such incidents.

I know I’m a small person - both in stature and significance (in the grand scheme of things!) but I’m a trier and I’m stubborn and this means I have not stopped thinking about and doing what I can to make some changes.

In 2009 I started a project about body recoveries from water which is still ongoing.  This was aimed at identifying where bodies may end up if we know an entry point.  It deals with the variables of the person themselves (like age, weight, height and clothing) and also the water conditions (flow, depth, temperature, obstructions etc..).  The main aim is to reduce search time and get the body back for the next of kin as soon as possible but as I designed the form I entered some data fields which could be used to try and prevent incidents occurring in the future.  I didn’t know quite how I would turn this data into public safety information at the time so it was a stroke of luck when some years later I had a chance telephone conversation with Kirsten (see The Start of Something Good?) who is a contributor on the National Water Safety Forum.

Since my recent initial meeting with Kirsten and the other agencies who contribute, I have given over all my data (collected so far) for entry onto the Water Incident Database and have established that I may be able to have access to the Database to add further incidents as they occur.  I have been able to get an invitation to a National Police Dive and Marine meeting and I presented an argument there for the police nationally contributing to the Database and Forum (if they do not already do so), which will mean greater liaison and contributions from all concerned.

I’m excited to see how this all turns out.  As usual I am full of optimism and am buoyed by meeting a bunch of people who want the same thing.  Miserable blogs may not work at preventing accidents but there is always another way and I look forward to seeing how it all pans out…

Wednesday 5 December 17:14

The Kirby Morgan ‘Superlight 17’ helmet we wore in training - It was light enough when you finally got in the water!

Wednesday 5 December 09:00

Mail the SSU way and the end of an era

imageThe time has come for Arf to retire.  He joined this Unit in October 1989 and as far as the SSU is concerned he’s definitely been around the block a bit.  Over the 23 years he’s been on the Unit he’s seen it turn from a part time dive Unit into a full time one in 1994 and then as new skills came on board the name was changed to the Specialist Search Unit.  He’s developed extra skills in almost everything we do so we won’t just miss him as a person we’ll miss his vast experience.

From a personal point of view I’ll miss Arf a lot.  He was one of the optimists on the Unit and gave me huge amounts of support when I joined as I knew nothing.  He continued to support me until he left and always gave me good advice and had theimage best interests of the Unit at heart.  If I was working away from the rest of the SSU or was having a challenging time Arf always checked to see if I was alright - he understood the pressures that we face.

When you leave the Police you have to give notification in writing of your departure, and of course you have a special form to fill out.  The way that Arf delivered his form to me was typical of his sense of humour and life on the SSU:

I was oimagen a dive looking for a weapon and like all our diving I had nil visibility.  I had been diving for around an hour and was coming to the end of the jackstay near the bank when my hand touched something round and manmade.  By the smoothness of the object I knew it was new and had not been in the water long and I was intrigued as I knew it wasn’t related to the item that we were looking for due to it’s age.  I picked the item up and could feel that it was heavy and was probably made of tin.  I tied a knot in the jackstay (to mark where I had left off) and swam along it to the bank where Critch, Arf and some of the others were and dropped the tin off on the bank. I then went back and finished my search.image

On exiting the water Critch encouraged me to open the tin.  On closer inspection I saw if was taped shut with a note ‘FAO Sgt Dennison-Wilkins’ on.  Inside were some diving weights and a laminated form notifying me of Arf’s impending leaving date.  How appropriate! I wouldn’t have expected Arf to have informed me via conventional means, one of the many ways in which he brought a smile to our faces.

I know that because of the person he is Arf will be happy and successful wherever he ends up after leaving our Unit. 

I wish you all the best Arf and many thanks for all you did for the SSU and Sussex Police.


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