As new awards are launched, handler who took call over Jo’s murder in Birstall speaks of key role

Recognition: Call handler Debbie Griffiths took the first call about the murder of MP Jo Cox. Picture Neil Holmes Photography Limited
Recognition: Call handler Debbie Griffiths took the first call about the murder of MP Jo Cox. Picture Neil Holmes Photography Limited

West Yorkshire Police is backing the first awards to recognise and celebrate unsung heroes working behind the scenes in control rooms across the UK.

The Control Room Awards 2018 have been launched by APD Communications, a company specialising in mission critical solutions for the emergency services. APD Communications develops critical, life-saving software used by the police and other emergency services organisations across the country, as well as transport and aviation operators nationally and internationally.

Backing: Tom Donohoe, Customer Contact Centre Head for West Yorkshire Police. Picture: Neil Holmes Photography

Backing: Tom Donohoe, Customer Contact Centre Head for West Yorkshire Police. Picture: Neil Holmes Photography

West Yorkshire Police is among the emergency services organisations backing the Control Room Awards. Tom Donohoe, Customer Contact Centre Head for West Yorkshire Police, said: “People remember the officers on the scene at a major incident – they don’t always recognise that, more than likely, the response began with the skilled handling of a call into a police control room.

“In such incidents it’s down to a call handler to stay calm, take down the details, assess the risks and look after the officers going out to the incident, by making sure they know what they are going into. All of that can sometimes go unnoticed.

“I’m a really big supporter of these new awards – they are long overdue.”

West Yorkshire Police Call Handler Deborah Griffiths illustrates the crucial role of control room staff in responding to the most serious incidents.

Busy: The control room at the West Yorkshire Polices customer contact centre, which is based at Wakefield.  Picture: Neil Holmes Photography

Busy: The control room at the West Yorkshire Polices customer contact centre, which is based at Wakefield. Picture: Neil Holmes Photography

Deborah took the first call from an eye witness alerting police to the fatal attack on MP Jo Cox in Birstall, West Yorkshire, in June 2016, and played a vital role in apprehending and securing the conviction of the killer, Thomas Mair. She said: “Control room staff don’t look for recognition, but it’s a good thing they will be acknowledged by these awards. People don’t appreciate the amount of skill, empathy and caring goes into handling the calls we take.”

Deborah took the 999 call from eye witness Darren Playford describing the scene of chaos immediately after the murderous attack on MP Jo in Birstall. Mr Playford had seen Thomas Mair’s appalling attack and was tracking the assailant as he left the scene.

It was Deborah’s job to keep the caller calm and focused, ensure he was safe, and relay vital information to police officers as they raced to the scene.

“It was clear from what he said that there had been a very serious, potentially fatal attack. I couldn’t think ‘oh, my god, somebody is dying’. I had to deal with it as I would any other call. It was only afterwards that I could think about that,” she said. “The caller was quite upset so I had to try to get him to calm down. I just tried to get him to tell me where he was, what was happening, what he could see and in what direction the suspect was heading, so we could get officers to the scene as quickly as possible.”

Deborah said that, above all, she was conscious of the need to ensure the caller was not at risk of becoming another victim.

“I wasn’t aware how long the call lasted – time seemed to stand still while it was going on – but I just knew I had to keep the call going because it was an ongoing incident. I needed to keep relaying the latest information by updating the incident log to ensure the officers knew exactly what was happening throughout that time.

“When it was over I told the caller he’d done a fantastic job, he’d kept himself safe and he’d given us lots of valuable information and been a great help to the police. It was only when I got home after my shift that I could reflect on what had happened. I don’t think about what I’ve done – I think about what the callers have experienced.”

Nominations for the Control Room Awards are open until January 18, 2018, with the awards ceremony taking place on March 8, 2018.

To nominate an individual or team for the APD Control Room Awards, visit https://www.controlroomawards.com/nominate/