A policeman who was stabbed in the neck in Belfast was millimetres from death, a senior commander has said.
A 22-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after two police officers sustained knife wounds in the incident at an address in the south of the city in the early hours of Wednesday.
Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said it was an “unprovoked knife attack on both officers”.
He added: “Two of our officers attended an address in the Ormeau Road area, providing assistance to a vulnerable member of the public.”
The officer who was stabbed in the neck underwent surgery and on Wednesday afternoon was said to be in a stable condition in hospital.
The other officer sustained slash wounds to his face.
Mr Singleton said: “One of our officers was stabbed in the throat, we’re very clear had that knife entered a millimetre at either side, we would be dealing with a fatality here potentially.
“The second officer received what I would describe as defensive injuries from the knife attack as well.
“As we’ve been reflecting on this incident, it’s very sobering and chilling for us that there could have been a very different outcome here as a result of what happened last night, we could have been dealing with the loss of our officers’ lives.
“It’s probably a timely reminder to us just about the risks and the threats that our officers face when they go about their duties.
The knife attack on two colleagues in Belfast overnight and the serious injury sustained evidences that Taser needs to be issued to our front line officers to enable them to protect their health and safety https://t.co/foPmwfMShw
— Police Federation for Northern Ireland (@PoliceFedforNI) February 1, 2023
“All this is happening while they are seeking to protect the public and working incredibly hard to keep our communities safe.
“Officers regularly step forward into the unknown, placing the public’s safety ahead of their own. That’s not something that any of us should take for granted.
“Assaults on our officers are never acceptable and should be condemned.”
The suspect was still in custody on Wednesday afternoon.
Policing Board chair Deirdre Toner condemned what she said was a “shocking incident which shows the risk and danger that officers can face in their service to the community”.
She added: “These officers were providing help and assistance and ended up being viciously attacked. We wish them both a full and speedy recovery.
“These attacks are completely unacceptable, are condemned by the board and must be condemned right across the community.”
Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said it was a “terrible incident that could have had a very different outcome”.
He paid tribute to both the officers for displaying “remarkable professionalism when confronted by this knife-wielding individual who was clearly intent on causing great harm”.
He added: “In this case, the officers could have used their firearms to protect themselves, but they didn’t.
“They sustained injuries, with one colleague requiring urgent hospital treatment for his neck wound. A millimetre either side of the wound could have had a very different outcome.”
Mr Kelly said the availability of a Taser would have given the officers an “effective tactical option against their attacker and potentially avoided the inflicting of the injuries on them”.
He added: “We say again that Tasers are effective, protective devices and should be issued as standard to our officers.
“They are infinitely preferable to a firearm and anyone who thinks otherwise should look at this incident and ask the obvious question.
“My thoughts are with my two colleagues, and I hope both are able to return to duty as quickly as possible.
“They are to be commended for the care they showed this violent attacker in the first instance and their subsequent handling of a very dangerous situation.
This is both alarming and disappointing. My thoughts are with those injured and I commend all PSNI officers for the work they do on a daily basis to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe.
I hope those responsible are brought to justice. https://t.co/9ajlht3P4G
— Chris Heaton-Harris MP (@chhcalling) January 30, 2023
“All assaults and attacks on our officers are never acceptable and must be condemned.”
Earlier this week, Chief Constable Simon Byrne spoke out against attacks on officers.
On Monday, he said 43 officers had been attacked in 30 separate incidents in the past seven days.
He said injuries included broken fingers and a dislocated knee, while several officers had also been spat on.
At the weekend, two officers were hurt when a car rammed into their police vehicle in Strabane, Co Tyrone.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris described the attack figures as “alarming and disappointing”.