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25 November 2013, 09:47
Two Dorset men who prevented a major fire after an oil tanker crashed into a house have won a National Police Public Bravery Award.
During the morning of Friday 20 January 2012, Darren Fletcher, 36, and Andrew Neal, 44, leapt into action after a man deliberately rammed a tanker into a bungalow in Folly Lane in Wool near Wareham.
The driver, Hugh Billington, 51, of no fixed abode, opened the valves of the tanker and doused the hallway and other areas with accelerant before igniting it, causing flames and thick smoke to engulf the property.
Fortunately, Billington's wife, the only occupant at the time of the collision, managed to escape uninjured.
Several members of the public appeared on the scene, including Darren Fletcher, of Wareham, and Andrew Neal, of Bovington.
Both were unaware the occupant had fled the house and displayed extreme courage.
Darren got into the cab of the tanker, which was covered in flames and dense smoke, and reversed it away from the bungalow. His brave actions prevented the flames from spreading and averting a serious fire.
While Andrew, fearing that there may be occupants in the bungalow, went to the rear of the burning property and saw a dog inside.
Without a thought for his own safety, he entered the building and rescued the dog before courageously returning to search for other occupants.
He then attempted to tackle the fire with a garden hose until firefighters from Dorset Fire and Rescue Service arrived.
Darren was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and Andrew declined treatment.
Billington pleaded guilty at Dorchester Crown Court on Monday 2 April 2012 to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, assault by beating, dangerous driving and theft.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison. Shortly after commencing his sentence Billington became ill and was admitted to hospital.
He died in June 2012.
Darren and Andrew were nominated for a National Police Public Bravery Award, which is run by the Association of Chief Police Officers, to recognise outstanding cases of assistance given to the police by members of the public.
Darren received a Gold Medal and Andrew was awarded a Silver Medal at a special ceremony at the Hilton Hotel in Northampton on 19 November 2013.
In order to qualify for the prestigious award, the nominee or nominees must be members of the public, a member of police staff including PCSOs or an on-duty member of any armed force or emergency service, with the exception of police officers.
Awards can also be given to security guards or investigators.
All nominations were submitted by chief police officers in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
In 2012 Darren and Andrew were both commended for their bravery by the Royal Humane Society.
Darren received the Royal Human Society's Bronze Medal while Andrew was awarded the Testimonial on Vellum.
Chief Constable Debbie Simpson said:
"Hugh Billington's actions were incredibly dangerous and it is fortunate that the outcome was not far worse.
"Thankfully the bravery of local people, including Darren Fletcher and Andrew Neal, ensured that the immediate danger was reduced.
"Folly Lane is a densely populated area with numerous houses and a school nearby. Were it not for the courageous actions of both men, this incident could have easily escalated into a major fire."