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Stabbing prompts calls for new police baton: As Lesley Harrison's condition improved, new police batons were demanded. Steve Boggan reports

LESLEY HARRISON, the policewoman stabbed through the heart by a suspected burglar on Sunday, was taken off a ventilator yesterday and managed to scribble a note to her family saying she planned to stay in the force.

Merseyside Police said her condition remained critical but staff at the Royal Liverpool Hospital had detected signs of improvement. The officer's stance was welcomed by colleagues amid calls for the introduction of American-style side- handled batons which can offer more protection against knife attacks.

PC Harrison, 29, was stabbed three times after attending the scene of the burglary in Wavertree, Liverpool, with another female police officer. It was the fourth serious injury she had suffered while on duty in five years. But despite the attack, the federation and senior women police officers said they would reject calls for women to be excused dangerous operational duties.

Inspector Jan Berry, chairwoman of the Police Federation in Kent, said female officers did not welcome unnecessary concern on their behalf. 'All police officers go through control and restraint training regardless of their sex,' she said.

'Some women who joined the force in the past expected to deal with different things than we do today, but certainly the policewoman who joins today expects to do exactly the same job as her male colleagues. The brute strength argument has been used in the past, but it does not hold good any more. I may not be in the next series of Gladiators but I have never had any difficulty performing my duties.'

Insp Berry echoed calls yesterday by Alan Eastwood, the national chairman of the Police Federation, for side-handled batons to be used for a trial period. Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, abandoned proposed trials because he was concerned that the batons would 'fundamentally alter for the worse the style of policing in this country'.

Mr Eastwood said: 'The Police Federation is very unhappy that operational officers are being denied a piece of equipment that could help them defend themselves better.'

He said the side-handled baton, which can exert a blow up to 10 times more powerful than a truncheon, would also help female officers to even up the physical odds against male assailants.

No statistics are available showing the number of injuries suffered by women officers compared with men, and it is understood no research has been conducted into the psychological effects on criminals of being confronted by a female officer.

PC Jan Norton, a policewoman serving near where PC Harrison was stabbed, said officers believed the baton could offer more protection.

'We understand it is lightweight and acts as an extension of the arm, keeping the suspect at arms-length while you negotiate with him or call for assistance,' she said. But she also said female officers did not want to be treated differently from male colleagues.

'It can be quite patronising when a male officer goes over the top with concern. We do not want any special attention. Sometimes a female can defuse a situation far better than a male.'

Brian Hilliard, editor of the Police Review, said 12 per cent of Britain's 127,000 police officers were women. Like their male colleagues, they trained for about 32 weeks and had to pass minimum standards of fitness, stamina and strength. Mr Hilliard said the psychological barriers that determined which tasks men and women were given had been broken down.

'It is not unusual for two women to patrol together,' he said. 'Ten years ago, some female officers were mollycoddled and there were some unofficial guidelines suggesting that they be kept in a support role during public order incidents like riots. That is no longer the case. There are no operational no-go areas for women.'

PC Harrison's mother, Lilian, said: 'The doctors told us her heart will heal. She loves the job. She says every time she goes out it's an adventure.'

Police are waiting to question a 28- year-old man about the stabbing. He is recovering from a head wound.

Leading article, page 18

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