Policeman faces death...

This is the moment when a heroic policeman came within inches of a crazed knifeman plunging a six-inch blade into his neck.

Only the lightning reactions of officer Jon Croft prevented paranoid schizophrenic Jason Lord driving the knife into the policeman's flesh.

PC Croft said that he felt lucky to be alive after he managed to grab Lord's wrist and pin him back as colleagues leapt to his defence at Paignton custody centre.

CCTV footage of the attack came to light when Lord was sentenced at Exeter Crown Court yesterday. He pleaded guilty to wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and two charges of carrying an offensive weapon.

Judge Graham Cottle said: "This was a potentially murderous attack on a police officer. That knife would have been in the officer's neck had it not been for his incredibly quick reactions and those of his colleagues. They saved a tragedy from happening."

Lord had previous convictions for carrying a knife, assault, racist violence, vandalism and robbery. He was detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act. He will be released from a secure hospital only with the Home Secretary's approval.

The court was told PC Croft was part of a team of two who attended Paignton Esplanade in August last year after reports that Lord had been knocked over by cyclists taking part in a race. Witnesses said he was carrying a Samurai sword.

The two policeman quickly confirmed that Lord had the weapon and arrested the 22-year-old student, of no fixed abode.

The officers handcuffed the suspect and conducted a brief search before transporting him to Paignton police station.

It was in the tiny custody room, which measures just 4ft by 2ft, that PC Croft began to carry out a more thorough search. He removed the handcuffs, demanding that Lord place his hands on the counter.

But while he was searching Lord's pockets, the offender swiftly drew the blade from his waistband and swung around at the officer.

Speaking after the hearing, PC Croft, 42, said the attack happened at "bullet" speed.

He added: "Everything was in slow motion.

"My training teaches me to move back in a situation like that, but because of the confined space, I didn't have that option.

"You make those split-second risk assessments, and this time I was lucky."

PC Croft said he felt uneasy during the search: "I was behind him and there was something unusual about him. He kept wanting to drop his hands. As I was searching him, he just spun around.

"It was a very fast risk assessment. I realised that if I moved back, he was going to get me. I could do nothing but block and tackle."

He went on: "As I grabbed him, I can remember trying to articulate a word to let people know what was happening, but I just let out a roar."

He praised the quick reflexes of his colleagues, one of whom vaulted over the counter and down a 5ft drop to help PC Croft to pin his attacker to the wall.

Now PC Croft and two of his colleagues, Detention Officer John Pratt and Custody Sergeant Ian Symons, have been recommended for commendations.

Yesterday, Torbay Chief Inspector Stuart Lander said the narrow escape highlighted the dangers that front-line police officers faced every day.

He added: "Policing can be a difficult and dangerous occupation. Officers don't always get the credit for the kind of role they fulfil. These circumstances quite clearly demonstrate that on occasion, police officers get put in harm's way in order to keep our community safe.

"We are extremely proud of what Jon and his colleagues did in demonstrating a very professional response to what was a life-threatening situation. Thankfully, such incidents are not that common."

John Smith, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority, yesterday said that the everyday bravery of officers was sometimes overlooked.

"I have often attended award ceremonies for headline-grabbing rescues where officers have stopped someone from drowning or pulled a casualty from a burning building.

"But the public is not as good at recognising the day-to-day level of heroism. If a police officer stops a car, for example, they don't know what kind of situation they are walking into. That takes something pretty special."

to see the video footage