Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Tuesday, 12 December 2006

County leads by stab vest example

By Anna Blackburn
BBC News, Nottingham

Pc Rachael Bown
Pc Bown was shot in the stomach, below her stab vest
When Pc Rachael Bown was called to investigate a burglary, she was protected by a state-of-the-art protective vest.

Yet seconds after arriving at the scene, she lay critically ill after a bullet thudded into her body.

But the police are quick to point out that the vests, which are made from Kevlar and nylon, do not make people indestructible.

In fact, officers are warned not to attempt any action they would not take if they were not wearing the body armour.

Nottinghamshire Police is one of the leading forces when it comes to protecting its staff - women are given specially tailored vests as part of their kit.

But female officers have said, as have male colleagues, they do sometimes have problems with stab vests riding up, leaving a large area of stomach exposed.

The Home Office said a stab vest had never failed in what it was designed to do - that is protect the vital organs and take the energy out of a stab or bullet wound, possibly resulting in an injury but probably not death.

Never do anything in a vest that you wouldn't do without one. They don't make you invincible
Pc Simon Clarke

Vital organs are classed as heart, lungs, kidneys and liver but some would argue that the stomach - where Pc Rachael Bown was shot - could be considered equally as important in terms of injury.

On 12 December, Trevon Kyron Thomas, a 24-year-old Trinidadian man who had overstayed his six-month tourist visa, was found guilty of the attempted murder of Pc Bown.

Thomas, who was living in Bilborough, Nottinghamshire at the time of the attack, fired three shots as Pc Bown investigated a burglary in Nottingham. One of these bullets hit her in the stomach, below the level of her body armour.

Sgt Phil Matthews, Nottinghamshire Police Federation's safety officer, explained how the vests were sometimes seen as cumbersome.

"The vests do ride up and they are uncomfortable when you are wearing them with a belt weighing down and all the other kit," he said.

"But unless you wear full, all-over body armour, you will never be fully protected."


Pc Bown's vest, as is the case for all Nottinghamshire's officers, would have been individually tailored for her size and shape - not something that is standard across England's forces.

But despite making up almost a quarter of the country's police officers, women can still experience difficulties in getting the right kit.

Liz Owsley, national co-ordinator for the British Association of Women Police (BAWP), said progress could sometimes seem slow.

Nottinghamshire Police stab vest
Nottinghamshire Police say they have top-of-the-range vests

"Some forces still don't have personally fitted body armour and for those that do have to have kit ordered in, female officers can end up waiting weeks or even months until they have the correct kit and can carry out full duties.

"This is something male colleagues rarely have to deal with.

"But Nottinghamshire has top-of-the-range kit - so although it still doesn't make you invincible, it will protect your major organs.

"When I was fitted, quite a few years ago, sometimes the women's vests were not as good as the men's because of the way they have to shape the Kevlar but they have got better," she said.

'Punched in back'

According to Pc Simon Clarke, a public order trainer for Nottinghamshire Police, stab vests are unlikely to change much or become much lighter.

"The most common sort of injuries suffered by police officers tend to be blunt traumas, such as being punched or hit across the back.

"If vests were any lighter - and this is the latest information coming from the Home Office's Scientific Development Board - they wouldn't provide enough protection against these sorts of injuries," he said.

"The vests are designed to provide the best protection on the front and back panels to cover the vital organs.

"Never do anything in a vest that you wouldn't do without one. They don't make you invincible."

Man convicted of shooting officer
12 Dec 06 |  Nottinghamshire
Man denies attempted murder of Pc
03 Jul 06 |  Nottinghamshire
Wife's fears over stabbed officer
05 Dec 06 |  Manchester
Man admits firing fatal Pc shot
15 Nov 06 |  Bradford

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