A detective sergeant from Essex Police is up for a bravery award tomorrow night — for saving the life of a Jewish resident of Jerusalem after he was violently attacked.
Detective Sergeant Richard Burgess told the Jewish News this week that he “didn’t think about it” despite nearly getting killed in the attack. But he did detect “God’s purpose” in helping the Jewish man.
DS Burgess, 45, who is based in Rayleigh, Essex, has served in Essex and the intelligence community and has been a police officer for 25 years. But his real ambition, as he told the Jewish News, is to become a priest, and he has been studying with Canon David Tudor of St Nicholas’ Church in Canvey Island.
Together with friends from the police — PC Sophie Ford and PC Katharine Pearson — DS Burgess was making his first visit to Israel in February 2016 on a pilgrimage tour arranged by the church.
The group’s week-long tour was nearly at an end when, at DS Burgess’s initiative, they visited the grave of Oskar Schindler, who saved hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler is buried in the Catholic cemetery on Mount Zion, near the Old City’s Zion Gate. The police officer has worked as a historian and a Holocaust guide, teaching many young people and guiding them around sites in eastern Europe.
“Because I’d been to the Schindler factory in Poland [where Schindler employed the Jews whom he saved], I wanted to go to see where he and his wife were buried and pay my respects”, DS Burgess said. “As we came out of the cemetery, there was a young child screaming in an alleyway opposite, and a woman who pointed down the alley and begging, ‘please help’ in broken English.
“I saw three Arab-looking males assaulting a Jewish man wearing a kippah. I saw him being dragged and assaulted, and some sort of noxious substance appeared to have been sprayed at his face, because his eyes were streaming.”
The burly police officer ran down the alley “without a thought”. He said: “It wasn’t a good year for me, 2016. We went to Israel two days after my mother’s death and I had had a bad motorcycle accident which affected the use of my right arm”.
But, undeterred, he said: “I curled my arm around one of the men — who was hitting the Jewish man with a belt which he was using as a knuckleduster — and put him in a headlock. With my other arm I pulled at the Jewish man’s clothing and literally threw him up the alley, shouting ‘go, go’ — he soon got the message”.
But the drama wasn’t over, as the men began hitting DS Burgess round the face with the belt-buckle. “A third man came into the area with a claw hammer, and hit me on the back of my head.” The police officer slumped against the wall and the assailant raised the hammer once more — and this second blow would certainly have killed him.
“I managed to raise myself up — I’m a big bloke — opened my arms wide and shouted at them”. The men shouted back for him to leave and Canon Tudor and his police colleagues made certain that the children of the injured Jewish resident were safe.
Two men were later convicted of assault and DS Burgess made his way back to the pilgrimage coach and safety. His colleagues nominated him for a Police Federation Bravery Award, which is due to be presented on Thursday evening.
The National Police Bravery Awards honour officers who have performed outstanding acts of bravery while on or off-duty. The awards are sponsored by Police Mutual.
Steve Taylor, chairman of Essex Police Federation, said: “Sgt Burgess’s actions are in the finest traditions of British policing. Even though this attack occurred in Israel while he was on holiday, this did not stop Richard from stepping in and doing the right thing, potentially saving a man’s life. Congratulations, Richard – you truly are a police hero.”