The diary of a police officer seeking new challenges after cheating death

EXACTLY two years before we met, David Watson was enjoying a solo cycling holiday in the Hebrides, one of the delights he had promised himself when he retired from West Yorkshire Police; that holiday would end in a horrific road accident which almost cost him his life yet today he counts himself lucky.

He was pedalling south from Portree towards Sligachan in a typical Skye drizzle when he passed a slow-moving queue of vehicles heading in the opposite direction. There was no warning of what was to happen next; a Renault Laguna, accelerating to 60mph, pulled out from behind the line of crawling cars and crashed into the lone cyclist, who smashed into the windscreen before careering upwards and sideways in to a deep, water-filled ditch alongside the road.

He has no recollection of the impact but it left him with the flesh, nerves and tendons ripped from his mangled hands, three broken vertebrae, a fractured femur, his left knee and thigh ripped open by a jagged piece of metal, five broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Mercifully," he recalls, "by the time I hit the deck I was unconscious. Less mercifully, I was under water and no longer breathing. The cold water had caused my blood vessels to contract, however, which, I was later told, restricts the loss of blood so maybe the manner of my descent had been a blessing in disguise."

That was just the beginning of his luck. In the string of vehicles, which he estimates was no more than 10 cars long, were a consultant anaesthetist at Guy's Hospital in London, a former medic with the SAS and a teacher, all of them on holiday, and two nurses who worked on Skye.

Together they located the stricken cyclist, found him still alive and hauled him from the depths. The emergency services arrived and the casualty was determined to be in a critical state. On the Glasgow Coma Scale, used to determine levels of consciousness, with 15 being the norm and three, the lowest level, to be applied only when the patient was already dead or in a deep coma, he rated a three.

The story of David Watson's recovery from his appalling injuries – a process he was assured would take two years and it did – is told in a remarkable book typed in the early hours of many painful mornings when a return to normality often appeared to be edging further away rather than coming closer, day by each interminable, immobile day.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It is the story of young man from Bradford who had the foresight to chronicle his day-to-day doings from the time he joined the police force as an innocent bobby-on-the-beat in Brighouse after his original choice of work – as a carpenter-joiner – had been cut short by the recession of 1981. He was 24, had a mortgage and was planning to marry.

"From the start I just used to write about any problems I had encountered when I got home at the end of my shift. Some would talk over their problems with a mate over a beer, some would tell their wife, others might keep it to themselves. For me, sharing a problem with myself by writing it down helped to solve it.

"I never came across or heard of any other policemen who did that, although maybe one or two did it but didn't mention it because they were unsure of the response."

That habit of writing down the up-and-downs of the life of a police officer helped with the first part of his book; describing the heartaches and the laughs, the moments of fear and the despair at some of the decisions made by senior officers, not least in the Bradford riots of July 2001 when he was on the front line, facing a barrage of bricks, insults and Molotov cocktails. Another mix of police memories is already with his publisher.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When retirement beckoned, he planned a return to the building trade and more of the mountain climbing, squash and tennis which had become part of his life. Those dreams ended that August day on the Isle of Skye

in 2008.

He was airlifted to hospital in Inverness then, when doctors thought him up to the stress, flown to Leeds where the healing process began. He had his 13th and hopefully last major operation in July but concedes: "I might have to go back eventually for a bit of tidying up, removal of scar tissue, little jobs like that."

The reconstruction of his shattered hands is now complete but movement remains limited, especially in his right hand. He has difficulty doing little things, fastening shoe-laces, extricating his wallet from his back pocket and taking photographs, another hobby.

"Did you know," he asks plaintively, "that no one has yet made a left-handed camera?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Only now am I beginning to discover what I can and cannot do, to take stock of my life," he adds. "I can't hold a screwdriver so there is no chance of getting back into the building trade. I've given away all my tools and equipment.

"I've also given away my squash rackets, including a new one. I still have all my climbing gear, packed in boxes, but realistically I know I will never be able to undertake the climbs I could before the accident. I'm restricted to taking the dog on the moors for a few hours most days.

"I was planning to trek in the Himalayas but now I can't walk for a full day and even if I could, I would be too slow and hold up the rest of the party."

But despite the lingering after-effects of his accident, he still has ambitions which would scare most.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I want to go white-water rafting on the Zambezi and the instructor has told me that as long as I can hold the paddle I should be okay," he says. "I also want to do a free-fall parachute jump – my daughter Hayley did one in New Zealand last year."

He and his wife Julie have just completed the move from their four-bedroomed home at Cross Hills, near Keighley, to an apartment in Ilkley. "Everything is within easy reach in Ilkley," he says. "If I don't feel like driving, I don't have to; the shops, the railway station, everything is close to hand and we are only a few minutes away from the moors."

There are plans to work with the Huddersfield-based charity Brake which helps the victims of road accidents. "I am in a unique position, having attended road traffic accidents – they call them road traffic collisions these days, apparently some people found the word 'accident' distasteful – in my time as a police officer and then been a seriously injured victim.

"I hope to help with fundraising and also to give presentations to police officers and medical people explaining the work that Brake does," he says.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But most remarkable of all in the story of David Watson is that he bears no malice against the driver of the Renault Laguna.

"I wouldn't know him if he stood next to me," he says. "Police officers on Skye have been helpful and I've managed to piece together a little bit about him. He pleaded 'not guilty' to dangerous driving

but 'guilty' to careless driving; I know his name; I'm told he is English and lives on Skye; someone said he might be a clinical psychologist.

"He made a mistake and I paid the price. Maybe I was unlucky but,

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

overall, I had more good luck than bad that day. If those people had not come to my rescue so quickly, I would not be here talking about it.

"I hope to resume cycling, even if it means having the gear-change and brakes on the left-hand side of the handlebars and next summer I want to go back to Skye – I have to finish that holiday. The chances of a similar accident occurring again are so small they are not worth worrying about.

"Julie accepts that I have to do these things, they make me what I am; if I didn't have ambitions, I wouldn't be David Watson."

n Out of the Blue, Scratching Shed Publishing, 13.99. To order a copy from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop, call free on 0800 0153232 or go online at www.yorkshirepost P&P is 2.75.