PCSO shares incredible story of recovery after life-threatening crash
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“It left me for dead… but all I knew was that I wanted to get back into uniform.”
A former solider has described his battle to recover from a devastating motorcycle crash, and why the professionalism of a police officer inspired him to join the force.
Mark Ridley, 33, was riding with a passenger on the A27 on Titnore Lane, Worthing, when his vehicle left the road, causing them both serious injuries on September 14, 2014.
Eight years on, Chief Constable Jo Shiner helped Mark, who is a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) in Brighton, to be reunited with the Roads Policing Unit (RPU) officer who attended the collision and inspired Mark to seek a career in policing.
The crash left him fighting for life, while his passenger and former partner had to be airlifted to hospital also with serious injuries. She has since made a recovery.
Mark said: “I had 19 major breaks and fractures; seven of those were in my neck and spine, my left lung was punctured, and I had 11 bleeds in my brain.
“I can remember leaving my home and travelling towards the A27, but after that I remember absolutely nothing.”
His 12-year career in the army, which included active service as an infantryman in the Staffordshire Regiment in Afghanistan, ended because of his complex injuries.
It also marked the start of his long road to recovery.
“I woke up in a CT scanner and was totally confused. I did not know what was happening,” Mark said. “The collision left me pretty much for dead”.
“I was in the military at the time and was travelling back to my barracks before a six-month deployment to Cyprus. But unfortunately, that was the end of that.”
Attending the scene as part of the emergency response was PC Steve Taylor, 48, who himself served in the Royal Artillery for 12 years before becoming a police officer for Mercia Police in 2002 and Sussex Police in 2009.
The RPU officer visited Worthing Hospital to complete patient condition checks on Mark in the aftermath of the collision.
When Mark was awake, he was able to talk with Steve and the two spoke about their love of motorbikes.
Steve said: “Mark was kept at Worthing Hospital and I went backwards and forwards to check on him and report on his condition.
“After he woke up, we got chatting about motorbikes.”
Mark added: “The fact we had a chuckle about motorbikes was one of the few things I can remember from the time.”
He began on his road to recovery with support from charities like Help for Heroes.
But Mark admits it has been a difficult path back to recovery: “The effect of the collision crushed me. I had a mental break down afterwards. I felt as though my whole world had ended.
“I lost my relationship, my house and even my career. I ended up homeless without any idea of what to do.
“It was only once I lost everything, and started to get help through charities like Help for Heroes and Mission Motorsport that I made started to make progress.”
Mark was in and out of both NHS and military hospitals for nearly seven years. He has had ten operations and completed weeks of physio rehabilitation, as well as getting support with his mental health.
He said: “After six and a half years of operations and rehabilitation, with the help of my surgeons, I decided enough was enough.
“I wanted to move on with life and start to rebuild without the concern of when my next operation was, how long the recovery period would be, and what I would actually receive for having the operation.
“I have been left with a brain injury and partial paralysis in a few muscle groups, however this is now 100 per cent better than anything I could have wished for while I was laying in that hospital bed.
“My injuries are very restricting at times, but I use my experience to inspire and motivate others, proving that a disability is only a word once you find your ability within.
“So many people gave to me, from Sussex Police, the ambulance, fire service, hospital staff and charities. They put me back on my feet and now I give back to those who supported me whilst helping others in need.”
During his recovery, Mark himself began to support the agencies that had assisted him and volunteered himself for charities that had helped him back to recovery.
He has played for Southampton Football Club’s Pan Disability team at both national and international level, with games played around the world.
Later he was called up to the England team after being scouted in a European tournament in Austria. Whilst playing, he obtained his FA Coaching and disability coaching badges and became a voluntary community coach, visiting locations around Hampshire, coaching children and disabled adults.
Throughout Mark’s recovery, the military charity Mission Motorsport were a huge source of his support.
The charity assisted with his personal mobility recovery, his anxieties around travelling on roads, and later by helping him to start driving again.
Mark said: “For five years I was a beneficiary, being supported by Mission Motorsport, both mentally and physically and now I have the opportunity to give back by volunteering my time.
“I have supported races across the UK and now assist with the support and rehabilitation of injured Soldiers who have physical injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as part of the events welfare management team at much larger occasions like the Formula One at Silverstone.”
But he was not able to keep in touch with the emergency services who had helped him at the roadside and in hospital.
Mark said: “The officers who attended the scene potentially saved my life, so when the opportunity came to join the police, I thought ‘this is my opportunity to say thank you’.
“All I knew was that I wanted to get back into uniform. I couldn’t thank the person who helped me, so wearing the uniform and assisting people would be my ‘thank you’.
“So many people gave to me from Sussex Police, so I joined the force as a PCSO.”
He joined Sussex Police as a PCSO in November 2020, and his duties include drawing upon his own experiences to help others as a disability engagement officer for Brighton and Hove.
Mark met Chief Constable Jo Shiner at a presentation to officers and staff for their service during the pandemic, and told her he was seeking to track down the officers who helped and supported him during the crash and in the aftermath.
The chief made enquiries to see which officers were still serving from 2014 to see who could remember responding to the incident.
That is how word reached PC Steve Taylor. He said: “When the call went out to RPU officers about trying to find the officers who helped Mark, I couldn’t remember it at first.
“But it was realising I had spoken to him about the motorbikes that I realised I had attended the collision he was involved in.
“I’ve worked in family liaison working with families who have lost people in road traffic collisions. I have dealt with so many incidents like this, and normally you don’t get to hear the outcome.
“So I was completely humbled that somebody had been influenced so much by us that they would want to join the police.
“I’ve heard about all the charity work that Mark has done and all the people he looks after and am amazed by it.”
They were both invited to meet with Chief Constable Jo Shiner, and it was the first time they had seen each other for nearly eight years.
The Chief Constable said: “I cannot think of a better story, that because of the professionalism in the way this was deal with it has inspired someone to join policing.
“The reason we all join the police is for public service, so to hear that Mark also joined the force as a PCSO in order to say his ‘thank you’ is both incredible and hugely humbling.”
Mark's story is being shared as just one of the many examples of those who have been inspired to join the force as a PCSO. Recruitment for new PCSO roles is currently open online here.