Ex-cop tells all about the cost of bravery

HAUNTED HERO: Allan Sparkes with his Cross of Valour.
HAUNTED HERO: Allan Sparkes with his Cross of Valour. Monty Coles

ALLAN Sparkes put his life on the line to save others but struggled to save himself.

The former local police officer and decorated hero, who famously rescued a boy trapped in a flooded storm water drain in Coffs Harbour in May 1996, has told all in his memoir The Cost of Bravery.

Allan became the first Australian police officer to be awarded the country's highest decoration for bravery, the Cross of Valour, but he had no idea the event would culminate in the end of his police career and leave his life hanging in the balance.

The Cost of Bravery is the brutally honest account of what happened to him after he saved the life of young Jai Waddell, and his subsequent battle with post traumatic stress disorder.

In pitch darkness, amid a raging torrent of storm water, Allan said he heard the cries of the terrified child somewhere in the flooded tunnel ahead.

"It was the screams of a dying child, screaming for his life," Allan recalled.

"It was pitch black and freezing cold. The screams echoed round and round. That's what drove me on.

"I never want to hear anything like that again as long as I live.

"It was absolutely terrifying."

"I was not the same man after that."

With nothing more than a torch and some rope, Allan and his partner Gavin Dengate placed their lives in each other's hands to search for and ultimately save young Jai, who had been swept 600 metres down the flooded drain.

"After crawling some 30 metres against the flow of the storm water pipe, I found him hanging onto a piece of timber, absolutely terrified, and yelled to him to let go."

"I found him hanging onto a piece of timber, absolutely terrified, and yelled to him to let go.

"I grabbed him, wrapped him in my arms and I told him to thank God, and then we just wept."

The rescue was later described by the Governor General as "bravery in circumstances of extreme peril".

Allan Sparkes descends into the storm water drain to save Jai Waddell.
Allan Sparkes descends into the storm water drain to save Jai Waddell.

Allan said what should have been one of the greatest chapters in his life, quickly turned his life upside down.

"I was 10-foot tall and bullet- proof, wasn't I?"

Two decades of frontline police work, from the streets of Kings Cross to the Coffs Coast, took their toll and by October 1996 he could deny it no longer.

He handed in his service revolver and handcuffs and asked to be taken home.

Allan's story is an insight into the debilitating mental illness of post traumatic stress disorder.

His recovery was a decade-long roller coaster of disappointment and achievement as he rebuilt himself.

After an emotional journey to hell and back, it was a sailing trip with his family 16,000 nautical miles from England to Australia in 2009 that he said made him "feel like the man he once was again."

A volunteer with Beyond Blue, Allan now lives in Sydney with his wife Deb and two daughters.

The Cost of Bravery, will be released on Wednesday.



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