A Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) will be honoured by Greater Manchester Police’s Chief Constable for rescuing an 86-year-old former England footballer who was stranded for six hours while walking his dog.
Tommy Banks, who made around 250 appearances for Bolton Wanderers Football Club during his career, was reported missing at 5:30pm on Friday 12th February after he went out walking his 10-year-old Welsh border collie, Susie, before falling and becoming trapped in Blackleach Country Park in Bolton.
Tommy followed his dog off into a wooded area before he slipped and became stuck in the boggy undergrowth in freezing conditions.
Spotting a tree around 20 metres away, he dragged himself towards it hoping to use the branches to pull himself up, but he only managed to move 10 metres in six hours.
PCSO Derek Thomas, who knew the layout of the park, was tied up on another job at the time but was released by his Sergeant to join the search.
PCSO Thomas, who knows the FA Cup winner from his Farnworth beat, was searching the park when he saw Susie barking and shone his torch towards Tommy, who called out for help.
The former Bolton MRT Honorary Support Group Chairman found Tommy collapsed but conscious, being comforted by his dog.
It then took an hour for Mountain Rescue, police officers, and paramedics to rescue him on a stretcher.
Tommy was taken to the Royal Bolton Hospital with hypothermia at 7.30pm and kept in overnight but has no serious injuries.
Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said: “This is a great example of community policing and highlights the importance of our neighbourhood officers and their extensive local knowledge.
“Derek’s dedication saved the life of a popular local character and I am delighted that Tommy is now safe and well.
“His actions that night deserve to be recognised and I am proud to be able to award him with a Chief Constable’s Commendation.”
During the incident Tommy lost a handkerchief that he had kept in his shorts pocket when he first played for England and PCSO Thomas returned to the country park days later to find it, returning it to its rightful owner.
PCSO Thomas said: “At the end of the day, I knew that I would be able to find him. I don’t know why but I just had a feeling that if I could be released from my duties I had the ability and the knowledge of the area to locate him.
“It’s fantastic to be nominated. The best reward was seeing Tommy safe and well the next day. He’s a great character and a cracking bloke.
“The rescue was a brilliant team effort and I’m grateful to my colleagues for their help in getting Tommy to safety. I’m over the moon to be nominated.”
Tommy, who was a member of England’s 1958 World Cup squad, said: “Susie ran off into the woods and off over a ridge. I followed her but I slipped and couldn’t get up.
“I saw this tree in a few yards away but I couldn’t move through the undergrowth, I was physically drained. I was in there for six or seven hours.
“Then all of a sudden I heard Susie barking and saw this torchlight. I picked my head up, I was so relieved. It was so close but it felt a million miles away.
“Then they all started swarming round me with blankets. They were wonderful, absolutely marvellous. I am so grateful. They saved my life.”
Greater Manchester Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd said: “This story highlights the importance of neighbourhood policing and the valuable role of PCSOs in their communities.
“Despite the difficult conditions, Derek’s tenacity and hard work resulted in Tommy being rescued and reunited with his family. He is a credit to GMP and the local community.”