Beds, Herts & Bucks

Police dog Finn: The attack that almost killed a 'hero'

PC Dave Wardell and police dog Finn Image copyright Herts Police
Image caption PC Dave Wardell and Finn had been working together for seven years when a knife attack almost took the dog's life

A 16-year-old boy has been convicted of stabbing a police dog - leaving him fighting for his life - and injuring his handler. But how did it happen and how has it affected the pair?

"Only three beings know what went on in that garden that night," PC Dave Wardell said, ahead of the teenager's trial.

He has had to keep the details of the attack under wraps, dealing with his own emotions as he nursed his dog back to health.

In the early hours of 5 October the officer and his German shepherd, Finn, were looking for a suspected armed robber who had held up a taxi driver at gunpoint.

During the search for the suspect another man made a run for it from a row of shops, PC Wardell recalls.

They gave chase from the Denton Road area of Stevenage, noting the man had something in his hand.

The pair caught up with him in a garden and as he ran for a fence, Finn grabbed his leg.

Image copyright Dave Wardell
Image caption Finn has been with his handler since he was a puppy

"In a split second" PC Wardell saw the man's hand move away from his dog's side.

"I watched as a massive piece of dark metal was pulled from Finn's chest," he recalls.

"It was covered in blood... it was so wide... a serrated hunting knife, probably about 10in long."

Then he lunged again, "slicing open Finn's head... and my hand", he said.

Image copyright Davies Veterinary Specialists
Image caption Vets at Davies Veterinary Specialists battled to save Finn following the attack

Their attacker was detained, and Finn was rushed to a vet.

"The blood loss was relentless at this point," he says.

"I sat holding Finn's chest together on the floor of the vets', which was green before we arrived, but was now red.

Image copyright Dave Wardell
Image caption PC Dave Wardell photographed Finn at the surgery - he thought this might be the last time he saw his beloved dog alive

While vets decided what to do, the dog had noticed his handler's own wound.

"He started trying to clean it for me. With all this going on around him he was still thinking of his dad."

On morphine, the dog was transferred to a specialist vet and PC Wardell was ordered to hospital to have his own wound treated.

"I had no idea whether I would see him alive again.

"My heart was broken. I cried into his fur and said, 'Daddy loves you. You can do this'.

"I turned to the vet and begged him to save my boy [who had] just saved my life."

Image copyright Dave Wardell
Image caption The extent of Finn's injuries prompted campaigners to call for changes to animal attack laws

Finn was in a bad way, with air leaking from his lungs - parts of one lung had to be removed.

Five hours later PC Wardell was allowed in to see Finn. The prognosis was promising.

He got home, and, after seeing his children, "broke down".

Four days later, collecting Finn from the surgery, he was, he says, "a grown man crying that he was about to take his dog home, a dog that had saved his life just a few days earlier and nearly paid the ultimate price".

Image copyright Dave Wardell
Image caption Finn never once moaned about his pain as long as his "dad" was with him, PC Wardell said

Finn was "possibly the most famous police dog in the UK at that moment".

For three weeks PC Wardell slept on a makeshift bed next to his dog.

"Not once did he moan, as long as I was there with him."

Image copyright BCH Police Dogs
Image caption Finn's fame spread far and wide and gifts flooded in for him as he recovered from the attack

During this time PC Wardell's own emotions "were running very high".

"I found myself crying quite a lot and usually without warning," he says.

"One feeling I haven't felt, and I don't have time for, is hate. It's a feeling that, I find, achieves nothing but to eat you up inside."

A photograph of Finn's stomach wound, held together with 30 stitches, prompted an online campaign for a change in the law regarding injuries to police support animals.

It became known as Finn's Law and culminated in a Parliamentary debate leading to a revision in the Sentencing Council guidelines for dealing with animal attacks.

The changes mean offenders can get stiffer sentences for attacking police dogs or horses, as magistrates now need to consider whether the attack was on an "animal being used in public service".

Image copyright Dave Wardell
Image caption PC Wardell threw himself into a number of campaigns including raising money for "Finn fan", Alexander Goodwin, who is battling cancer

As part of his own recovery, PC Wardell had been taken off operational duties, and by November was back as a police dog instructor.

However by December, despite being back at work and Finn's recovery being on target, he says he was "struggling to deal with all sorts of silly little things that shouldn't have been a problem".

"I kept finding myself in tears at the drop of a hat. The flashbacks... were much less, but that unpredictability meant it could be anywhere, at the shops, in the boss's office, sat in traffic or picking the kids up from school.

"With the support of my wife and children, friends and colleagues, I was able to see that it was time to move on.

"I have faith in people again. From something so negative, the positives just keep on coming."

Image copyright Herts Police/Dave Wardell
Image caption The pair have been inseparable for eight years

Eleven weeks after the attack Finn and his handler were back on the beat.

"We went back to the town where it all happened that night - Stevenage."

On his first shift, Finn tracked a suspect and an arrest was made.

"Everything just slotted into place," PC Wardell says.

"He'd done it. Finn had silenced his doubters and shown the world you can't keep a good dog down."

Image copyright Dave Wardell
Image caption This ball of fur would grow up to be life-saving police dog Finn

The protracted trial - postponed twice - took its toll.

It made him "relive moments of my life - our life - we'd rather forget," he says.

It was "frustrating, challenging" and "games were played".

The suspect has now been found guilty of the attacks, and Finn has retired at the age of eight and joined the Wardell family's pets.

Image caption Finn retired at the end of March and took his first seaside holiday

But for PC Wardell, the attack cannot be forgotten.

"I am still dealing with the events and aftermath of that day," he says.

"But Finn is my hero. He saved my life - of that I have no doubt.

"He's more than my hero... he's like a son to me."

Image copyright Dave Wardell

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