THE off-duty police officer killed in a horrific A19 pile-up had only been back in the front-line role he loved for a fortnight after recovering from a serious injury.
Neil Gartland, 38, was killed in a series of collisions involving 31 vehicles in thick fog on the A19 in County Durham late on Friday night.
More tributes were paid to the popular and respected PC yesterday, who had enjoyed only two weeks back in the job he thrived on, after a prolonged period of treatment for a shoulder injury sustained during the course of an arrest.
The officer’s future in his job had been cast in doubt after he suffered the blow, but following 18 determined months of rehabilitation PC Gartland had managed to return to the role he coveted before his death.
Last night the crash victim’s superior officer said the devotion PC Gartland had shown in returning to front-line service was a testament to the commitment and talent he had shown during his eight years as an officer in South Tyneside.
Chief Superintendent Mark Dennett, of the South Tyneside area command, said: “When we learned of Neil’s death on Saturday morning it came as a huge shock to all of his friends and colleagues.
“They’d been with him in the days before the accident, to suddenly find out he’d been killed was a really devastating blow to all of the close friends he has here.
“He was injured some time ago in making an arrest on duty and sustained an injury to his shoulder, which has meant for the past year to 18 months he has been on restricted duty.
“I think that it showed his strength of character that he made it back to on to his team.
“He had only been back a couple of weeks so it was tragic in the sense it had taken him all this time to get back to the job he loved, but it shows how much he wanted to be out on the streets policing.”
The shocked community in Sunderland, where he lived with his wife, also paid tribute to Neil’s larger-than-life character.
A statement released by ex-team mates at Sunderland Rugby Football Club, said: “The sense of loss, sadness and disbelief felt within Ashbrooke over the weekend has been overpowering with many of Neil’s friends left stunned and in tears.
“We value team spirit and mateship above all else, while determination and sense of fair play whilst always maintaining a sense of humour and the ability to laugh at ourselves are vital qualities – qualities which describe Neil Gartland perfectly. God bless you Neil.”
Police are continuing to investigate the series of smashes which claimed Mr Gartland’s life and left a scene of devastation on the dual-carriageway.
The collisions involved two tankers and two 38-tonne HGVs. At least 10 other motorists and passengers suffered injuries.
A 47-year-old man suffered stomach and shoulder injuries, while a 50-year-old had head injuries.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Durham Constabulary collision unit on 0345 60 60 365.