An ambulance worker has spoken out about how he was ‘strangled like an action figure’ by a drunk patient who “suddenly switched”.
Joel Blacker, 27, was working as an emergency crew member for the London Ambulance Service when he and his colleague answered a 999 call to a man who had collapsed on a street in Islington, north London.
When they arrived, the patient, 28-year-old Stuart Gellatly, of Enfield, wasn’t able to stand.
But Joel said somehow he suddenly flipped and became aggressive, launching his colleague to the front of the ambulance before wrapping both hands around Joel’s neck.
Joel, from east London, said the man held him with such force he feared he wouldn’t be able to get out of his grasp.
He suffered a broken bone in his neck and said he was warned he’d have to be monitored following the attack to ensure his neck didn’t swell up and suffocate him.
Gellatly was handed a 12 month community order and ordered to pay compensation totalling £600 to his victims, after pleading guilty to actual bodily harm (ABH) and assault on an emergency worker at Inner London Crown Court on Friday 13 March 2020.
But the lack of a custodial sentence left Joel feeling like there was no justice.
Speaking to Mirror Online about the attack in the early hours of 2 June 2019, Joel said: “He suddenly got super aggressive and strong out of nowhere.
“As soon as I got closer he turned around and it was two hands around my throat, it was like I was an action figure the way I was being moved.
“I didn’t know I was going to get out of it. I thought ‘is he going to get me on the floor and keep on choking’. He was squeezing at the throat.”
Joel said after he was taken to hospital “I was told I had to be monitored as I had fractured my neck and if it started swelling I could suffocate myself.”
Hitting out at the punishment Gellatly received, he added: “The sentence didn’t seem to take into account what actually happened.”
Joel said all he was told before going off for the job was that there was an unconscious man lying on the street.
When he and his crew mate arrived at the location, they found a male lying on the floor, describing him as ‘paralytic drunk’.
Joel said they managed to get him off the floor and into the ambulance with difficulty.
But suddenly, he just “switched”.
“He grabbed my crew mate and threw him to the front of the ambulance,” Joel remembered.
“I went to try and help and he got [his] hands around my throat and the next thing I know I’m being pushed to the back of the ambulance.
“He got his hands round my neck and was applying pressure – I didn’t know what was happening, or how he moved me as I’m not a small person.
“He didn’t seem like he would be capable of it – it came out of the blue and he was so strong.”
Joel said he remembers thinking “not again” as being assaulted while on the job was sadly not a new occurrence for him.
“I remember a sense of helplessness,” he said.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen. He was so strong and I didn’t know how to get out of it.
“It literally lasted seconds and my friend was still lying at the front of the ambulance where he had been pushed.
“As soon as he kicked off he pushed the emergency button to send help.
“I could vaguely hear some noise on the radio but my focus was the hands around my neck and how to get away.”
He continued: “Something twisted me out of his grasp and it’s a blur how I managed to get away.
“One minute I was being strangled and the next I fell sideways onto the bed and then he was out of the ambulance.
“He stumbled out of the ambulance and two bouncers tried to control him but he threw them on the floor like they were action men.
“I followed him down the streets, he was trying to get a taxi and was unaware I was there.
“I followed him for about three minutes and then police arrived – it took six of them to restrain him – and a Taser.”
Joel said even after being assaulted it was his duty to make sure his attacker was OK.
Gellatly was taken to hospital and Joel was checked over at the same time.
He said he felt a lump in his throat which was not overly painful – but had an X-ray to be sure.
“I was told I had to be monitored as I had fractured my neck and if it started swelling I could suffocate myself,” Joel said.
“If I had gone home there’s every chance it could have swollen and I would have suffocated to death in bed.”
Joel said he had to have steroids and go through a period of observation.
He said his fracture healed without surgery but it took him two months to recover.
Joel eventually went back to work, although it was a struggle initially because of the traumatic effect the attack had had on him.
“I could have suffocated myself and not even a suspended custodial sentence – it doesn’t feel like justice or a deterrent for other people,” he argued.
“For the effect it’s had on me it doesn’t seem proportional.
“You shouldn’t have to expect to be assaulted.
“A lot of the assaults are alcohol driven,” warning people “know when to stop”.
The LAS were the first ambulance service in the country to recruit two violence reduction officers as part of their ongoing work to protect staff and volunteers.
Detective Sergeant Christopher Arnold, from the City of London Police, said: “It is unacceptable for anyone to be the subject of a violent attack such as this, especially individuals who are just doing their job.
“It is important to remember that behind the uniform, emergency service workers are ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs.
“It is intolerable that, when helping someone, they are physically or verbally abused.”
Criminals who assault emergency workers will face up to two years in jail under a new law announced by the Government earlier in September.
Ministers plan to bring forward legislation to double the maximum sentence for those convicted of assaults on frontline staff including police officers and firefighters.