Two Dacorum police officers win prestigious Frank Mason Memorial Award in memory of fallen PC

The off-duty police officer was fatally wounded in Hemel Hempstead more than three decades ago

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 1:50 pm

Two Dacorum police officers have been presented with the prestigious Frank Mason Memorial Award in recognition of their dedication to the role.

Detective Constable Paula Mowbray and Police Constable Leah Barnby have been selected for the accolade, which is awarded each year in honour of an off-duty police officer who was fatally wounded in Hemel Hempstead more than three decades ago.

PC Francis Mason - better known as Frank - was walking his dog on 14 April 1988 when he witnessed a security van being held up by armed robbers in Bank Court.

Chief Constable Charlie Hall laying a wreath at the site of PC Mason’s memorial stone in Bank Court

He displayed enormous courage and tackled the gunmen but he was shot, and sadly died aged just 27 years old, despite efforts to save him. As a result of his intervention the security guard was able to get to safety.

The award is presented each year to a Dacorum-based officer who has displayed PC Mason’s qualities of dedication, professionalism and selflessness in protecting the community.

The winner is nominated by their colleagues and selected by senior officers in the borough.

Last year, the memorial award ceremony was postponed due to coronavirus so the chosen 2020 winner – DC Paula Mowbray – waited patiently to officially receive her accolade alongside this year’s winner, PC Leah Barnby.

DC Paula Mowbray with Dacorum Chief Inspector, Craig Flint

DC Mowbray, who received three separate nominations from her colleagues, has worked in the borough’s Local Crime Unit since March 2013, but first joined the constabulary as a PC back in 2005.

Paula is adept at handling a number of complex and challenging investigations simultaneously and is known for going above and beyond. In her nomination, colleagues described her as a ‘highly skilled detective’ with ‘an eye for detail’.

They said: “Every officer in Hemel knows that Paula is one of the go-to officers for quality advice, support and leadership.

"She is empathetic to victims, studious and thorough with her cases and will always fight for the right result. She is a role model for her peers.”

PC Leah Barnby with Dacorum Chief Inspector, Craig Flint

In September 2019, Paula was commended by Judge Andrew Bright QC for her investigative skills following a trial at Luton Crown Court. The trial was the result of Paula’s investigation into a knifepoint robbery in Hemel Hempstead in October 2018, where three victims were violently assaulted and had their property stolen.

Later in 2019, Paula and her colleague DC Chris Phillips investigated a series of distractions burglaries carried out by a gang in Hemel Hempstead and Watford. One of the elderly victims had their British Empire Medal stolen.

Paula and Chris worked with Hemel Hempstead MP Sir Mike Penning to source a replacement medal, and arranged a surprise presentation for the victim who was overwhelmed by the gesture.

DC Mowbray said: “Honour and pride doesn’t cover my delight in winning the Frank Mason Memorial Award. Serving Dacorum has been a pleasure over the past 15 years.

PC Mason’s memorial stone in Bank Court yesterday afternoon

"I have been blessed with working with a plethora of excellent officers over the years who I have learned a lot from. I am only as good as the team around me. I am very grateful to my friends and colleagues who voted for me.”

PC Leah Barnby, from Team 3 Intervention based in Hemel Hempstead, is the winner of this year’s award.

Leah is an intervention officer, meaning she responds to emergency calls for police assistance and is often the first on scene at an incident.

Leah has been with the constabulary since February 2013 and from the beginning she showed great aptitude for building a rapport with vulnerable victims of crime, helping secure convictions and as a result, achieve justice for them.

PC Barnby is held in high regard by her colleagues who work in the safeguarding command as there have been several occasions where her initial hard work has resulted in offenders being charged.

In one instance, Leah showed empathy and patience with a vulnerable victim of domestic abuse. The victim was initially unsupportive of police action, but after Leah spent time gaining her trust, she changed her mind and provided a statement.

This enabled the offender to be subsequently charged with assault.

Another example saw Leah supporting a teenage boy who had suffered from sexual abuse. He had previously had contact with police but had not made any disclosures about what he had experienced.

However PC Barnby built up a trusted rapport with him and as a result, he confided in her. Officers were able to make an arrest and the victim received the support he needed to begin to come to terms with what had happened.

In her nomination, Leah’s colleagues described her as ‘an asset to the team’ and lauded her victim-focused work as ‘exceptional’.

Leah said: “I am hugely honoured to have been chosen as the winner of this year’s Frank Mason Memorial Award.

"I love what I do and every day I come to work wanting to make a positive difference to people’s lives. I will continue to put victims of crime at the forefront of everything I do.

"I also want to pay tribute to my colleagues, who offer me a constant source of support and guidance.”

Leah and Paula were presented with their awards in front of colleagues during a virtual online ceremony yesterday (Wednesday), and afterwards they attended Bank Court with Chief Constable of Hertfordshire Charlie Hall, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner David Gibson, Dacorum Chief Inspector Craig Flint and Hemel Hempstead MP Sir Mike Penning.

There, they laid flowers for their fallen colleague PC Frank Mason and paid their respects to him in a moment of reflection.

Dacorum Chief Inspector Craig Flint said: “I want to say a huge congratulations to DC Mowbray and PC Barnby, both of whom are incredibly worthy winners of this prestigious accolade.

"The Frank Mason Award is the highest honour that we can bestow upon our police officers in Dacorum and it is more important than ever, 33 years on, that we remember PC Mason.

“His admirable qualities live on in our colleagues, who come to work to solve crime, get justice for victims and make a real difference.

"He made the ultimate sacrifice, trying to do the right thing in protecting the public, and for that he will never be forgotten.”