Norfolk PC a hero - in Lithuania

STEPHEN PULLINGER Norfolk policeman Gary Pettengell captured the hearts of a small Baltic nation when the story became known of how he taught himself Lithuanian so he could chat to immigrants in Yarmouth and help them settle into Norfolk life.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

It was the sort of airport hullabaloo that you would normally associate with the arrival of a big-time celebrity.

But the jostling press photographers waiting outside the arrivals hall at Vilnius airport, in Lithuania, were not there for a footballer or film star - but a modest policeman from Norfolk.

PC Gary Pettengell captured the hearts of the small Baltic nation when the story became known of how he taught himself Lithuanian so he could chat to immigrants in Yarmouth and help them settle into Norfolk life.

His face quickly became familiar in Lithuanian papers and momentum gathered to the point where he was nominated as personality of the year in the nation's prime-time television awards.

He jetted out to Vilnius for the awards earlier this week, and ahead of last night's recording of the programme was told he had actually won.

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Hundreds of thousands of television viewers had voted for him after a film about his achievements, shot in Yarmouth last month, was broadcast on the country's main commercial channel, TV3.

PC Pettengell, 42, who has been enjoying a guided tour of Lithuania with his wife, Sarah - also a Yarmouth-based police officer - spoke to the EDP ahead of last night's glittering show, which will be broadcast at peak-time on Saturday.

He said: “I am so shocked to win, I can't describe it. There were film crews and six or seven photographers waiting for our flight at the airport, and we have been in the papers ever since we arrived. I have prepared a little speech for the awards which I will give if nerves don't get the better of me.

“I am receiving my award from Lithuania's EU commissioner and then I am receiving a special award from the country's police commissioner.”

PC Pettengell, the only foreigner taking part, beat two other nominees, including a mother who has dedicated her life to mentally disabled people, to win the personality of the year title.

Other categories in the Pride of Lithuania awards are honouring a couple who saved the life of a young man, a priest who helps drug addicts and a scientist who has dedicated his life to saving orang-utans in Indonesia.

The father-of-three began learning the language three years ago when about 50 Lithuanians arrived in Yarmouth among the first group of East European migrants.

“I started learning from a phrase book and a CD set I used in the car. I might only have pidgin Lithuanian but the people here appreciate it. It goes along way to be able to say hello, goodbye and how are you,” he said.

PC Pettengell, Norfolk's community police officer of the year, has since gone on to set up the Welcome to Norfolk website, designed to help migrants with practical information.

Chief Supt Charlie Hall said: “We are really pleased he has won, especially as it is not an award we put him up for. It was the Lithuanian people who picked up on the work he has done to engage with the Lithuanian community in the Yarmouth area. That work has had great benefits from a policing perspective in understanding the community's issues and needs.”