A Coventry cop who was mowed down by a car and left in a coma is back doing the job he loves.
Today, September 25, is exactly one year on from PC Chris Burnham’s brush with death.
The 48-year-old father of one was seriously injured after he was knocked down by a fleeing driver in Holbrooks, Coventry.
The officer suffered severe injuries including a fractured skull and a bleed on the brain, and was placed in to an induced coma to save his life.
It was initially feared that neighbourhood officer Chris would be in an induced coma for weeks, and remain in hospital well into 2020 but he has defied the medical odds.
Medical teams successfully reduced the swelling and pressure on his brain he was fully conscious – although disorientated – after six days.
Watch: Moments before PC Burnham was struck in hit-and-run
And remarkably just 21 days after being admitted he was discharged from hospital and on his first steps to recovery, but it was unknown at the time whether he would suffer a long-lasting effect from his brain injury.
Chris returned to policing – the job he loves – in June this year and started a new role with Coventry Police’s partnerships team.
“No one expected me to be in this position,” he said. “Not six months ago and certainly not 12 months ago.
“My recovery is down to a bit of luck, a bit of effort and a lot of NHS.”
Chris has no desire to dwell on what happened after spotting Tekle Lennox, wanted over a domestic robbery, on the afternoon of September 25 last year at the junction of Burnaby Road and Holbrook Lane.
Sprinted to make an arrest
As Lennox’s MINI Cooper was caught in traffic the officer sprinted over to make the arrest. However, Lennox sped off and veered right around an island before hitting Chris who was thrown on to the bonnet and his head smashed the windscreen.
He hasn’t been counting down the days to this year anniversary, instead seeing it as another step in his road to recovery.
“It’s something that has happened and is never going to go away but it will not hold me back,” he said.
Chris suffered serious leg injuries and has three screws holding his left knee cap together now. He cannot run but has pushed through the pain barrier and with flexibility returning to his leg he can walk, swim and cycle.
Despite what he’s suffered, Chris says his recovery has never been fuelled by a feeling of or need for vengeance.
In March, banned driver Lennox was jailed for seven years after he admitted wounding with intent to resist arrest. The 37-year-old was also given four months after pleading guilty to possession of drugs.
Chris said: “It’s been more about getting better than seeking vengeance. I feel justice has been done. I was impressed with the judge, CPS and the whole court process and content with the sentence as it was what I expected.
“I was glad to see the back of the court case and felt better when it had been laid to rest.”
Chris has fortunately suffered no long-term psychological damage, and even driven by the site of the incident several times.
With no recollection of the smash, or the following 10-15 days, Chris asked to watch the unedited footage showing the immediate aftermath of the incident.
In 1996 Chris suffered a broken jaw while on duty and during his 27 years in the job he has suffered his share of scars. But he admits this latest experience has made him more aware of the risks and dangers officers face.
“We do a dangerous job,” he said. “We are in a role where when it goes wrong, it can go wrong very quickly.
“That shouldn’t stop us from doing things, it’s about remembering to stay aware and keeping safe.”
Chris’s road to recovery has been assisted by the warm wishes of members of the public.
He said: “I would really like to thank the large number of people, from Coventry and further afield, who have provided support and well wishes. It’s been a massive help to me and my family over the last year.”
Appeal against sentence
Lennox’s sentence was blasted as “shocking in its leniency” by the Police Federation who said they would be appealing.
It was referred to the Attorney General’s office, under the Unduly Lenient Sentence (ULS) scheme, who confirmed they agreed it was lenient and it was being sent to the Court of Appeal.
A hearing happened in July and no change was made to Lennox’s full sentence of seven years and four months.
Carried on car bonnet
Lennox was arrested two days after PC Burnham, who has worked for West Midlands Police for 25 years, was struck by his car.
He was carried on the bonnet of the car for several seconds before being thrown off into the road. The Mini continued to be driven away from the scene.
Lennox was initially charged with attempted murder, which he had denied, and it was revealed at a pre-trial review in February by the CPS that he would no longer be facing that charge.
The 37-year-old, of no fixed address, instead admitted a GBH charge.
The extra four months he was given behind bars came after he admitted three counts possession of drugs – two for class A and one for class B – in connection with crack cocaine, heroin and cannabis being found on him when he was arrested on September 27, 2019.
Sentencing Lennox, Judge Peter Cooke told him: “On September 25 last year you set in train a set of events which have led to PC Christopher Burnham’s life changing, quite possibly, forever.
“The impact on him has been profound and, sad to say, the degree of permanence of those consequences remain uncertain even today.
“He and his family have been through hell over the last few months.”
The judge said that he accepted that the brief time for which Lennox could see PC Burnham before the collision was “insufficient for any driver to have reacted in a way that would have avoided the collision”.
But he added: “You hit Christopher Burnham and he was thrown up in the most horrific fashion on to the bonnet of the vehicle and then carried 42 metres along Burnaby Road before he fell from the car.
“During that period you had made no attempt to mitigate your speed. You had taken no regard for a person being on the bonnet of your car.
“If anything, you accelerated to get away.”
Reacting to the sentence in March, Jon Nott, chairman of West Midlands Police Federation, said: “Last September PC Christopher Burnham was doing his duty, protecting the public, proactively attempting to arrest a wanted man.
“That man – Tekle Lennox, a serial offender – then chose to try to avoid arrest and in doing so hit PC Burnham with his car, carrying him on his bonnet for 42 metres, causing him serious injuries.
“Injuries which could easily have killed him and which left him in a coma.
“This sentencing is shocking in its leniency, but sadly not surprising.”
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He added: “Lennox will serve significantly less than the sentence, and then be free to resume his life. But Chris, his wife and their young son – who have suffered months of pain, worry and anguish – will have to deal with the effects of this incident for the rest of their lives.
“Chris is a distinguished, dedicated and well-liked member of West Midlands Police with 25 years’ service who may not ever recover fully from the injuries he suffered that day.
“We have supported him, his loved ones, his colleagues and the wider West Midlands Police family since this terrible incident and they will continue to receive our support as his recovery continues.”