This Week: Brave recruit collects award

AS terrorist bombs exploded in the middle of London s rush hour on July 7 last year, thousands of emergency service workers were sent to deal with the horrifying aftermath. Among the front-line staff who risked their lives to help the injured and dying wa

AS terrorist bombs exploded in the middle of London's rush hour on July 7 last year, thousands of emergency service workers were sent to deal with the horrifying aftermath.

Among the front-line staff who risked their lives to help the injured and dying was Ely policewoman Karen Miles-Holdaway.

She had only just completed her initial training and was five weeks into street duties at Camden Police Station when the call went out.

But for Karen the next few hours would throw her into the centre of one of the biggest rescue operations London has ever-witnessed and leave her to cope with images too horrifying for most of us to imagine.

It had been Karen's life-long dream to join the police force but she never believed she was clever enough to get the chance.

She worked as a local authority parking attendant before finally become a Police Community Support Officer at London's Lime House police station.

Most Read

When the opportunity arose to become a new recruit and go to the Police Training School at Hendon her teenage daughter and husband Robin, a safety engineer, were totally supportive.

But none of them could have been prepared for the fact that Karen would face one of the toughest challenges of her new career before she had even qualified.

As she struggled to rescue survivors of the bomb blast which ripped through a train at Russell Square, Karen was also trying to reassure her family that she was safe.

Her 15-year-old daughter and her classmates had been told at school about the bombing and the teenager knew her mum was on duty in London.

Karen's mum was also in the capital on that day taking photos in a London park of Spitfire planes for her brother.

"I knew she was going to take the bus," said Karen, "and, of course, a bus had been blown up by one of the bombs. It was horrendous trying to get hold of her. I was in a mad panic trying to speak to her to make sure she was safe."

Finally Karen managed to get in touch with both of them and reassure them.

But the scenes she witnessed in London on that day left her with terrifying nightmares and an inability to talk about her ordeal.

"When it first happened I was having flashbacks," said Karen. "I couldn't talk to anyone about what I had seen. I bottled it up. I didn't want to upset my family.

"My skipper at the time was really good. He said he regretted taking us down into the tube tunnel but even if I had been a bystander I would have gone to help. Finally I started talking to my colleagues. They had seen the same as I had so it was easier to talk it through with them."

One of the bomb victims Karen rescued was a young woman working at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children who lost part of her leg in the blast.

Karen met up with her recently and discovered she is back at work and, despite her disability, has been skiing.

"She told me I was her hero," said Karen. "But I told her she is my hero because she is getting on with her life. She wanted to know more about the rescue and I was able to fill in some of the details for her about how far she had been blown down the carriage and where she was found."

Now Karen has been awarded the Metropolitan Police Commissioner's High Commendation - the highest award given for supreme courage, outstanding professionalism and compassion.

She was presented with the award by Commissioner Sir Ian Blair during the largest ever ceremony in the history of the Metropolitan Police.

The commendation is awarded for showing a high degree of bravery above that which would normally be expected for a particular rank.

During the ceremony Sir Ian said: "I am proud of each and every one of our staff. They have a tough job to do in difficult and sometimes extreme circumstances and this ceremony is all about recognising that and saying thank you not just to them but also to the families and friends who support them.