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Protecting the protectors: An inside look into the service supporting the frontline of Dyfed-Powys Police

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POLICE officers give their all to protect their communities – running towards danger as others run away, supporting victims and families in their darkest hours, and seeing unimaginable scenes.

But who is there for the protectors when they need back-up?

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Dyfed-Powys Police is sharing an insight into a previously unseen side of the force – the work the counselling service carries out in guiding officers and staff through their own struggles.

From officers painstakingly combing crime scenes for vital evidence, and investigators trawling through thousands of images on digital devices, to colleagues balancing the pressure between work and home life, Counsellor Samantha Davies and a team of 13 others around the force are there to offer guidance and support.

And Samantha explained the service is often most needed when officers least expect it.

“We often see officers who have got 20 or 30 years’ experience and don’t understand why an incident has affected them,” she said.

“Say you have an officer who has dealt with atrocities for 30-plus years, and suddenly they find themselves crying over something small. They think they’ve gone mad.

“Of course they haven’t – it’s the weight of what they’ve dealt with over the course of their career.

“It usually goes that they say they’ve dealt with worse things, they’ve seen worse things, and they don’t understand why this particular incident has bothered them.

“We work closely with them to find the trigger. It might be something in their past that they haven’t dealt with, there might be similarities with this job, or this latest incident is simply the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

While there are formal mechanisms in place to support officers who have dealt with traumatic incidents – being the first on scene at a murder, a sudden death, or a fatal collision, for example – the need for the counselling team might come from wider impacts of the job.

The challenges of dealing with a long term investigation, months spent in exposed conditions looking for evidence, or long night shifts guarding scenes of crime to ensure evidence isn’t lost can take their toll.

As part of her role, Samantha ensures she is readily available to officers working in difficult conditions – visiting investigation sites regularly to offer support.

“It’s not always the things they’ve seen – it can be problems at home, or the pressure of being away from home for weeks on end,” she said.

“One of the biggest things we see in the counselling room is guilt. We help officers to work through this, and give them the tools to help themselves.

“With the ongoing operation in Carmarthen, before the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, I was making sure I was on site twice a week, every week, with the force chaplain and our in-house Occupational Health Specialist team so they could see we were there if they needed us,” she said.

“Being on a site day in day out isn’t easy – if we can be there for a chat in the canteen, help clear the plates away, then officers get to know what we can offer, and are more likely to get in touch if they do need support.

“They might not need us during that particular investigation – it might be months or years down the line – but by meeting us at that time, they know we’re here.”

While Samantha sometimes faces reluctance from officers in accepting that they need a counselling session, she is able to strip away layers of bravado from those saving face from their colleagues.

“You do get a bit of banter between some officers – particularly when we carry out specialist unit reviews,” she said. “They’ll be in the waiting room making jokes about it, but when they come in, it changes.

“They might be worried that their line manager has to know they’ve had a session, or that I could take their firearms license away, for example, but that’s not what I’m here for. Once they realise what we’re about – that we’re not candles and whale music – they start to open up about things.

Nearly a year into her position at Dyfed-Powys Police, Samantha is realising a career dream stemming from her childhood, growing up in a policing family.

“My dad was an officer for 30 years,” she said. “When I was young, he used to tell me lots of gory stories, which I loved, and they gave me an insight and understanding into what they face.

“While he told me what he’d seen, he would never tell my mum. She didn’t work for the force, and he didn’t want to burden her with the things he had seen – that’s still true of officers today. They carry the weight of what they have seen and heard on shift, and often have nobody to offload to.

“He fully supported me when I said I wanted to be a counsellor. He was old fashioned, and would say in front of others that people need to pull their socks up, but quietly he would sit with me and say that things had changed since he left the job. They used to go to the pub and talk things through – he knew that didn’t happen anymore, and that people need somewhere to talk.

“I absolutely love my role. When someone says they wouldn’t have got through something without support, it absolutely humbles me. It brings me to tears.”

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Tip off leads to pensioner’s drug stash

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A BRIEFCASE full of drugs has been recovered during a raid in Swansea suburb.
Police acting on information provided by a member of the public executed a warrant in Gorseinon and recovered a large quantity of cannabis.
A man was arrested on suspicion of possession of the class B drug, with intent to supply.
A South Wales Police spokesman said: “At around 5.40pm on Wednesday, January 6, following an intelligence led operation, a 68 year-old man from Gorseinon was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply cannabis.
“He was taken to Swansea central police station for questioning. He has been released under investigation”.

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New Year – new start – for two seals released back into the wild

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Two grey seal pups have been returned to the wild for the New Year following months of RSPCA rehabilitation.

They were released at Port Eynon, Gower, Swansea, on 3 January as the sun rose – just days into 2021 – by  RSPCA animal rescue officer Ellie West and RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben – who caught the beautiful event on camera. One seal had been originally rescued from Abereiddy in Pembrokeshire – the other from Trevone in Cornwall. They were both found in distress, underweight and with injuries.

Ellie said: “This was such a lovely release – to see them both enter the sea happily where they belong with the sun rising in the distance was just glorious. It was a lovely way to start the new year.”

The seals had been transferred to the Welsh coast from RSPCA Mallydams Wood Wildlife Centre in Hastings the previous day and had spent the night at the RSPCA Llys Nini Branch seal unit.

“These two pups – nicknamed BB8 and Luke Skywaker – have been in the fantastic care of RSPCA Mallydams Wood Wildlife Centre who have given them the best rehabilitation over the past few months. It’s always fantastic to hear when they have put on the appropriate weight and can be released back into the wild,” added Ellie.

Ellie had been involved in the initial care of the seal rescued from Abereiddy Beach back in October.

“He was a weaned pup that had pretty much moulted out all his baby white lanugo coat, so he was fully weaned, but he was found quite underweight, lethargic and had the snotty face of a sickly pup,” she said. “He also had a lump on the top of his neck.

“He was reported to myself and Keith and we asked Welsh Marine Life Rescue (WMLR) to attend who very kindly collected him and cared for him for a few days until we were able to transfer him to the wildlife centre.

“Once again we want to thank WMLR for all their assistance, expertise and all their hard work this past season. We could not do what we do without them.”

At RSPCA Mallydams Wood Wildlife Centre the seal had the lump removed under anaesthetic by the vet team.

The second seal from Cornwall came into RSPCA care in November and weighed just 16.3kg. The seal had suffered a few small wounds and was a bit wheezy, with centre staff treating him for lungworm and administering antibiotics. When he left the centre the seal – who was named Luke Skywalker – weighed a healthy 40kg.

Before release, the seals were given identification tags in their hind flippers for ID purposes. The RSPCA often receives good feedback from sightings – and the scientific results received reveal that seals that go on from rehabilitation survive in the wild.

The RSPCA advises that if members of the public spot a seal on a beach that they think might need help, the best thing is to observe them from a distance and do not approach them.

Seals are wild animals and have a nasty bite. Never try to return a seal to water yourself, as you may put yourselves and the seal at risk by doing this. It is also advised they keep dogs away from any seal and keep them on leads on beaches that have seal colonies too.

It’s not unusual for a seal pup to be alone, as seal mums leave their pups very early on in life. So if the seal pup looks fit and healthy and shows no signs of distress, it should firstly be monitored from a safe distance for 24 hours.

If you see a pup whose mother hasn’t returned within 24 hours, is on a busy public beach, or if you think the seal may be sick or injured, please stay at a safe distance and call the RSPCA’s advice and cruelty line on 0300 1234 999. An unhealthy seal pup looks thin (but not bony) with a visible neck, like a dog.

There is more information on the RSPCA website about what to do if you see a seal or pup on the beach alone.

If you have an animal welfare concern or find an animal in distress please call 0300 1234 999.

This winter, the RSPCA expects to rescue thousands of animals from neglect, cruelty and suffering. Already this Christmas we received more than 44,000 calls to our cruelty line but the calls to our rescue line are not stopping so neither will we. To help our rescue teams continue to reach the animals who desperately need us this winter, visit www.rspca.org.uk/xmas and Join the Winter Rescue #JoinTheRescue

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Community Midwife home for Christmas after 85 day battle with COVID-19

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SHARON GEGGUS, a community midwife from Llanelli is home for the holidays after a three month battle with coronavirus.
Sharon began to feel unwell in September, experiencing shortness of breath and a high temperature.
As these symptoms persisted and her condition began to worsen, she was admitted to Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli on 16 September, with a temperature of 41°C.During her stay, she credits the support of her family and the staff at Prince Philip Hospital for helping her get through the ordeal. Speaking of her experience in hospital, Sharon says: “I was sedated for about five weeks, but I was told that the staff were playing music for me. They had contacted my family to find out what my favourite songs were, and they would play those.
“It was really hard but the hardest times I didn’t really know about – my family were the people going through it. I can’t stress how well the staff looked after me. I used the iPads provided through the hospital to keep in contact with my family and the staff would also help me phone and communicate with my family.  
“The ITU staff and the staff on Ward 9 where I went for rehabilitation were amazing. I’m a community midwife myself and I would obviously treat someone how I wanted to be treated – but they really went above and beyond.
They would sit and chat with me when I was feeling down and they made sure I was in contact with my family all the time, even letting me hang up pictures of my family on my wall.”
Sharon was clapped out of the hospital on 10 December, 85 days after being admitted. Even though she is home, the road to recovery isn’t over.
She says: “There’s still a long way to go but I’m getting there. I can get around using a walking frame and only need oxygen when I’m really moving about. It’s so nice to be home, I think you just sort of relax a bit and move around more and just feel better for being back with your family.”
Reflecting on her experience, Sharon offered this advice to others with COVID-19: “Keep in touch with your family as much as you possibly can, it’s what got me through. I wouldn’t really know what else to say, just keep positive and keep in touch with your loved ones, that’s what really helps.”
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