A family fun day at Chester Racecourse on Sunday turned into a life saving operation as Sergeant John Forshaw and Constable Edward Newman had to rescue members of the public in extreme weather which saw flash floods develop within an hour. Chief Inspector Alastair Hinze was on patrol with his team to police this high profile event, which reported a record attendance last year. He remarked that "from 8am, the crowd was good natured, setting up gazebos and looking forward to a nice day ahead. The weather was absolutely fine but three races into the event, I noticed a storm coming in. There was immediate concern about the public in their large numbers, all running for shelter into confined spaces and people getting crushed so we were keen to contain the situation."
At approximately 3.20pm, a very heavy thunderstorm hit the area which caused extensive flooding across the entire site. Numerous incidents began to be reported to police within a very short period of time, many of which caused concern for the safety of the public. A spokesperson from Chester Racecourse reported that there were circa 36,000 people at the fun day, but an end to the racing was decided before the fourth race - after an inspection of the course by the stewards, when it was decided that racing should be abandoned owing to severe water logging.
In just 20 minutes, 28.2mm of rain fell on the course and it could not drain quickly enough which led to certain areas becoming extensively flooded in a short space of time. The racecourse suffered significantly worse due to its position and there was flooding at various parts of the course with toilets and stands up to 2-3 foot under water.
According to Sergeant John Forshaw, it was around 3.30pm, when a member of the public alerted him to the fact that there were people trapped in the toilets within the Dee Stand. He, along with his colleague Constable Edward Newman waded through water which was knee deep with raw sewage. The two officers acted without hesitation and along with the assistance of some of the racecourse staff, they made several rescue attempts with Sergeant Forshaw carrying out a young child of about 4 years old and an elderly man. Their efforts led to 10 − 12 people being rescued. John commented that "everything seemed to happen in 15 minutes" but he was pleased with the way that they had worked as a team, coping with every incident in a short space of time. This extended to reuniting lost children within the racecourse who were briefly separated from their parents.
The racecourse did remain open to ensure that people did not leave at once and cause traffic problems but flooding on New Crane Street and a burst main leading to closure of Old Dee Bridge created congestion problems. Chief Inspector Hinze maintained high visibility patrols around the racecourse and city centre to get the traffic flowing again.
Chief Inspector, Damien Smethurst who was in overall control of public safety on the day, praised the actions of all officers deployed to the racecourse, stating that the policing carried out by Chief Inspector Hinze, the control room and those on the racecourse was exemplary. "Not only did they face a difficult situation, in horrendous conditions, but they had a scenario which could have turned significantly more dangerous with forked lightning and severe downpours. The fact that only eight minor injuries were reported, none of which were serious, shows their ability to manage the safe and speedy exit of spectators. These officers acted without consideration for their own personal safety and they are a credit to the Constabulary." For more information on Cheshire Police please go to www.cheshire.police.uk.