A former Cheshire Constabulary cop who took a patrol car and crashed through the gates of a police HQ has spoken for the first time about the despair that led him to ‘lose everything’.
Iraq veteran Kevin Szabo said being a constable in Cheshire Police triggered a deep-rooted post traumatic stress disorder, for which he gained ‘no support’.
In an exclusive interview, the father-of-two choked back tears as he revealed how he has lost his job, family and home.
Kevin said he wanted to confront the chief inspector about police cutbacks and the lack of welfare for officers, claiming he hadn’t been formally visited by his superiors for four months.
Recalling the moment he reached ‘breaking point’ in January last year (2014), Kevin said: “I arrived at Ellesmere Port police station, parked my car up in the yard and used my swipe card to get in.
“I walked to my locker and got dressed into my full police uniform because I wanted to look professional.
“I took some keys for a police car - my sole intention was to drive normally to Winsford and go to the chief’s office to demand a meeting with him to get answers as to why I wasn’t supported.
A spokesman for Cheshire Police said: “The Constabulary takes the welfare of all its staff seriously and recognises the demanding and stressful nature of police work.
“We provide a wide variety of help and support tailored to the needs of individual officers and staff when they suffer problems.
“This is done through a range of means; line managers, the Occupational Health Unit, help lines, the Police Federation and Unison.”
'I wanted answers from Chief Constable'
But according to him, the Force had failed to provide the support he needed.
“I wanted him (the Chief Constable) to see one of his front line officers broken beyond repair.
“But it didn’t turn out like that, because I soon realised I didn’t have my personal radio on me, only the one that was in the car.
“It wasn’t long before I could hear things being said about me over the radio.”
Kevin activated his sirens and flashing lights while being pursued by police cars and the force helicopter.
“When you get sent to a 999 job, you are focused on getting there in the best possible time, but safely.
“That day, my emergency was to get to Winsford HQ to see the chief, I had no intention of causing anybody any harm.”
Kevin said he intended to drive in through the main gates of the building but saw they were locked so headed to the back gates hoping to find them open.
“I remember looking in my rear view mirror once more and seeing the police vehicles behind me.
“I closed my eyes and drove through the gates parking the car by main entrance.
“I was shocked that I was arrested because I wasn’t there to cause anyone any harm, I was there because I was desperate.”
His home was cordoned off by North Wales Police
The incident came just days after Kevin locked himself in the bedroom of the marital home after hearing of an email that had allegedly been sent by the chief inspector urging staff to ‘carefully consider’ the implications of going off sick.
Officers from North Wales Police cordoned off the road for hours.
“It was just me in my bedroom wanting to be left alone,” he explained.
“By the morning of January 24 (the incident with the police car), I hadn’t slept for three days and I’d had enough.
“I remember thinking I’ve been totally let down here, I should not be feeling like this.”
Kevin said being in the police unearthed harrowing flashbacks of his army days in Iraq.
Frontline work as PC triggered Iraq flashbacks
A troop corporal of the Royal Dragoon Guards, he endured incidents that affected him, including a close call with a potential killer and the grim discovery of a suicide bomber’s body discarded in a cardboard box at the side of the road.
“The main incident that really affected me was an explosion at Basra Palace,” he recalled.
“A car had exploded and there were the bodies of two men inside.
“I had to man a very close cordon around the vehicle for around five hours.
“When the bomb disposal team eventually arrived, they scanned the car for more explosives and found another bomb.
“Ten minutes later, it went off. The fact that I had been standing there all that time really got to me.”
Kevin said he had put the images to the back of his mind by the time he joined Cheshire Police in 2008.
'They didn't give a damn about us'
Based in Ellesmere Port, he described the first few 18 months of the job as ‘fine’, but in 2010, he started to feel like things ‘weren’t quite right’.
“I started having palpitations around the time the budget cuts came into play.
“Back room staff were being made redundant and us front line officers were having to pick up more work.
“The problem developed to sleeplessness to the point where I would be worrying about the day ahead of me and was feeling anxious because the workload would increase.
“I started having panic attacks and during my journey to work, I would be sweating.”
Kevin described long shifts with no breaks and even claims to have been the only response officer left covering the whole of Ellesmere Port while other stations were ‘cannibalised’ to cover Chester Races.
“I felt that was wrong and that’s when I thought, they don’t give a damn about us.
“The volatile incidents that I was having to deal with were also triggering flashbacks.”
Kevin was signed off sick in September 2013 after an episode that left him feeling disorientated.
Work related stress took a heavy toll
He was prescribed antidepressants and told he was suffering with work-related stress.
“I was supposed to have a monthly welfare visit from my inspector and sergeant, but I didn’t see my inspector for four months.
“After I did see him on January 24, I was told he circulated an email to all officers telling them to carefully consider going off sick because it will affect other colleagues and increase their workloads.
“I hit the roof because I was the 19th out of 65 officers in Ellesmere Port to go off sick – that’s a third of the workforce.”
Kevin, who admitted he has considered suicide several times in the last 16 months, was diagnosed with complex PTSD in June 2014.
Now he is trying to piece his life back together with help from local charities and is also in the throws of an intensive therapy course.
“Being a soldier and then a police officer made me feel like I shouldn’t have any weaknesses, that I’m not a real man if I can’t cope with basic day to day things,” he said.
“The fact is, I can’t deal with things and I’ve lost everything.
“If not for the stress of the police and the lack of resources and support for front line officers, I would still have my family, my job - with support - and my health.”