AN ESCAPED prisoner was jailed for 14 years yesterday for attempting to murder a policeman in a 'brutal and vicious' knife attack.
The Old Bailey was told that Robert McNeil, 22 - who has convictions for seven previous attacks on police - stabbed PC Martin Dudley in the neck, chest and back after being stopped on suspicion of theft in Lewisham, south London.
PC Dudley's life was saved by a colleague Sgt Julie Hitchings, 35, who hit McNeil repeatedly on the legs and head with her truncheon and then disarmed him.
Commending her 'very great bravery', Judge Kenneth Machin said: 'It was heroism of a very high standard indeed. At personal risk to herself she succeeded in disarming that man and in all probability saved PC Dudley's life.'
The judge also paid tribute to PC Dudley who is still off work as a result of his injuries. 'Despite being wounded he continued to struggle with his assailant and no doubt, as a consequence, stopped his escape.'
McNeil of Plough Way, Rotherhithe, south London, and another man had been stopped in the early hours of 29 January by Sgt Hitchings, PC Dudley and a second woman officer.
As PC Dudley held McNeil, he produced a flick knife and launched a frenzied attack on the officer.
Originally from Blantyre, Strathclyde, McNeil was on the run from a five-year sentence for another stabbing. He had absconded after being given home leave 17 months into his sentence.
His previous convictions for attacks on police included one in which he nearly gouged out an officer's eye.
McNeil had denied attempted murder but was found guilty by the jury yesterday. He had admitted malicious wounding.
Outside court Sgt Hitchings said she was pleased McNeil had been jailed for a long time. She added: 'I hope on this occasion he will not get home leave.'
She and PC Dudley have urged that police should be armed in future with modern and better truncheons.