The 10 London police horses stood their ground as missiles were hurled at them and as buildings and vehicles burned around them.
At times they were struck on the chest and hindquarters by hurled bricks as they worked to quell the London riots of 2011.
Their unwavering determination led to the crowd retreating and allowed emergency personnel to do their jobs, including checking burning buildings for occupants.
This week, the 10 police horses and a police dog were bestowed awards by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), the veterinary charity which runs the world’s most prestigious animal awards programme.
The horses and dog, Linpol Luke – who received the award on behalf of all police dogs deployed during the riots – became the first animals to receive the PDSA Order of Merit, which they are calling the animals’ OBE (Order of the British Empire).
Like the OBE, the PDSA Order of Merit recognises distinguished excellence through service to society – in this case, outstanding acts of devotion in working to protect the public, the police and firefighters.
The animals were presented with their awards in London on Wednesday by the charity’s patron, Princess Alexandra, at the Honourable Artillery Company.
The charity said that during the disturbances, the horses – Defender, Judge, Kensington, Livingstone, Boris, Laurel, General, Deats, Hector and Intrepid - were confronted with burning buildings, falling debris and missiles. Countless bricks struck the horses’ chests and hindquarters in a situation more extreme than any training could have prepared them for.
Despite the heat, noise and chaos, the horses stood their ground, helping restore order to the streets and bringing protection and reassurance for communities affected.
The police horses also ensured that the fire service, who were also under attack, were able to reach those buildings on fire and check if anyone was still inside.
Two police horses in particular, Boris and Laurel, went ahead into the dense acrid smoke and noise, and their confidence allowed the other horses to follow.
During the riots, the horses worked for hours on end with only a 20-minute break for water. They were close to exhaustion when they finally stood down.
The charity said none of the horses had experienced anything on the scale of the riots before, especially Laurel, who had been classified as an operational horse just days before the riots.
Boris, who according to his riders has a lovely calm nature, has performed many ceremonial escorts during his time with the Metropolitan Police and most notably was part of the escort for the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Metropolitan police dogs were also called into action during the disturbances in various locations around the capital.
Many of the dogs sustained injuries from the constant hail of missiles directed at them. Linpol Luke – affectionately known as Obi by officers – suffered a fractured skull.
Obi received the award on behalf of all of the dogs that served during the riots.
According to his handler, Phil Wells, Obi is a colleague and partner: “He’s one of the team; at the top of his game and a leader in his class with a finely tuned nose. But once home he’s part of the family, a gentle giant and a cuddly bear.”
Over several days the dogs and handlers were repeatedly deployed to assist officers working to protect the public and property.
Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector Ade Adelekan said: “We are honoured that our horses and dogs are to be the first recipients of the PDSA Order of Merit.
“Had it not been for the deployment of police animals, their handlers and riders across London, there would have been significantly more harm caused to our communities and to the officers trying to restore order to the streets.”
The dedicated actions of these animals were greatly appreciated by the communities they served, which was evident by the many local shopkeepers and residents who brought out water and food for the animals, to help sustain them.
Commenting on the award, PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said during the presentation ceremony: “Today we pay tribute to some truly exceptional acts of devotion. The extreme situations these animals faced exceeded anything they had experienced before.
“It is testament to their character and steadfast resolution that they have become the first recipients of the PDSA Order of Merit.”
The PDSA Order of Merit is awarded to any animal who merits recognition for exceptional acts of devotion and represents outstanding examples of the special relationship that exists between animals and humans.
McLoughlin added: “By creating the PDSA Order of Merit we can ensure that extraordinary animal contributions to society can now be properly recognised and honoured, however and wherever they occur.
“Their contribution to society is broad, be it police dogs protecting the public, to dogs visiting the elderly in nursing homes providing therapy and companionship.
“Valuing the wonderful and varied roles animals play in society has always been a significant part of our work at PDSA. As well as the companionship they bring to millions, animals serve and protect us in so many ways. This is why we have created this important new medal.”
PDSA also famously bestows the PDSA Dickin Medal – the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross – to honour animals that save human life when their own life is in peril. It was instituted in 1943 and recognises acts of gallantry in military situations. The PDSA Gold Medal, the animals’ George Cross, was instituted in 2002 and is its non-military counterpart.
PDSA is Britain’s leading veterinary charity and is dedicated to providing vital treatment and care for hundreds of thousands of pets and improving animal welfare. Since it was established in 1917, the charity has provided 100 million free treatments to more than 20 million pets in need.
From when he first strode out onto the London streets, Deats seemed born for the job and has always worked with enthusiasm and relish. Ridden by mounted officer, Constable Nick Amos, Deats proved to be a brave and capable horse during the Tottenham riot.
Hector’s rider, Constable Matt Meadows, remembers him as a handsome horse with a great personality that worked well with riders he could trust. Hector was present during the Tottenham riot, and with buildings burning and missiles flying, Hector stood firm. His memory lives on and he is a worthy recipient of the PDSA Order of Merit.
Constable Paul Copeland describes Boris “as brave as they come, with a lovely calm nature and willingness to work”. Boris is known for his perfect knowledge of every single route back to each police stable and is always eager to return for his hay.
Laurel was still in training when she and her rider, Constable Lynne Frearson,were redeployed to the disorder on the streets of Tottenham. This was the first time she had experienced such violence and hostility but, leading from the front alongside her mentor and stable buddy, Boris, she proved just how brave she is.
Defender and his rider, Sergeant Joel Gray, share a very special bond and when they attended the troubles on the streets of Tottenham, Defender helped Grey perform his duties and protect the public to the best of his ability. He is a trusted companion and a worthy recipient of this award.
Intrepid is a popular and much-loved horse at the stables, and has a reputation for being courageous and friendly. At the time of the Tottenham riots he was 10 and had six years of duty experience behind him. He serves alongside Constable John Pitt.
General is loved by officers and staff for his kind temperament and gentle manners. General’s rider, Constable Ben Jones, describes his valour and the sterling service he provided in protecting the public during the disturbances.
Constable Gary Smith, now retired, calls Judge the best horse he’s ridden in the job, and described him as reliable and brave “to the point where I would have trouble stopping him from going forward, no matter how dire the situation”.
On the night of the Tottenham disorder, ‘Kenny’ was actually a replacement horse for Constable James Foley. Shortly after the unit was deployed in the front line, a large firework rocket was fired directly at Kenny and passed through his legs under his belly. Had the rocket found its target, both horse and rider would have been badly injured. Kenny was astounding that night; he held his ground and barely flinched.
Livingstone was a regular and popular sight in southeast London and attended most high-profile events across the capital, including the annual Notting Hill Carnival. Livingstone worked with now-retired Constable Jeff Cowling during the Tottenham riots, who said: “Livingstone was a gentle and trusting animal, full of honesty and great fun to ride.”
Linpol Luke – ‘Obi’
Officially named Linpol Luke, but known affectionately as Obi to his friends, the English Shepherd is described by his handler, Sergeant Phillip Wells, as a valued colleague and partner.
Obi was seriously injured on the night of the Tottenham riots, suffering a fractured skull after being hit by a brick. Wells said: “Obi is my best friend and can be summed up by our motto: Amino et Fide, which means ‘courageous and faithful’.”
Like Obi, many of the dogs deployed suffered injuries during the confrontations and in recognition of the hard work of all 160 police dogs that served, Obi was awarded the PDSA Order of Merit on their behalf.