PC praised after saving life of a suicidal alcoholic

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A SUICIDAL alcoholic who tried to set fire to himself was saved by a police officer, a court heard.

Darren Bannister (43) had been armed with an open bottle of barbecue lighting fluid and a lighter after a row with his teenage son pushed him over the edge.

PC Richard Pollard, who was almost sprayed with the fluid by the defendant, had bravely grabbed the bottle and thrown it in a garden. Bannister had ended up being tasered after trying to ignite his clothing which he had earlier doused in the fluid, Burnley Crown Court was told.

Bannister has started a two-year jail term, while the officer was praised by a judge who said he was a credit to the police force.

Judge Beverly Lunt told Bannister, now said to be grateful to PC Pollard: “He probably saved your life, never mind avert an incident.”

Bannister, of no fixed address, had earlier admitted affray, last August.

Mr Martin Hackett (prosecuting) said police were called by the occupants to a house in Tuscan Avenue, Burnley, where it seemed an argument was taking place.

The defendant was standing in the doorway, appeared drunk and was unsteady on his feet. He was holding a clear plastic bottle, containing clear liquid, and had a lighter in his other hand.

Officers tried to talk to him, but Bannister refused. Police saw his T-shirt was wet and could smell lighter fluid. The bottle was noted to have barbecue lighting fluid written across it.

Mr Hackett said PC Pollard tried to remove the bottle of what he thought was lighter fluid, but the defendant pointed the bottle at him and tried to spray him. Some liquid came out and the officer grabbed the bottle and threw it in a garden. Bannister then put the lighter to his T-shirt and tried to ignite himself more than once.

Officers tried to diffuse the situation, but the defendant again tried to set fire to his clothing. He was tasered, arrested and taken to the police station.

The prosecutor said Bannister was questioned and said he had rowed with his son and had wanted to kill himself.

He said he thought the fluid was turps. He claimed he was slightly drunk and denied squirting the liquid at the officer or trying to set himself on fire.

The hearing was told the defendant had a record going back to 1981 which included threatening behaviour and assault.

Mr Huw Edwards (defending) said Bannister was a very troubled man. He had a history of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and at the time had been drinking about 10 cans of super-strength lager a day.

The defendant’s depression had peaked after a row with his 16-year-old son. That seemed to have sent him over the edge and he was in such a state he thought it was a good idea to pour lighter fluid over himself.

Mr Edwards added: “One can only imagine the depths of despair a man has to be in to consider taking that action on himself.”