Police officers have been praised for their bravery after they plunged into a burning building to look for a woman they believed to be trapped.

Police received a call just after 2.30am on Friday from a neighbour reporting disorder at one of the Station Hill flats near the former Karma nightclub.

When a team of seven officers from Chippenham station arrived they found smoke billowing up from the building and, without hesitation, PCs Nick McVey and Jamie Ball ran up the stairs, threw off their body armour and went inside.

They crawled on their hands and knees through thick black smoke and intense heat, combing the third floor flat for signs of life.

Several times they were forced to retreat to gulp in fresh air, each time re-entering the treacherous scene, only able to see the length of a ruler in front of them.

Meanwhile, other officers were holding back a hysterical man who believed his partner to be inside.

PC McVey, 38, said: “It was blacked out, we couldn’t see so we just had to touch and feel. The smoke was down to about 15cms off the floor.

“We stayed in until the heat got too much and Jamie pulled me out of the room by my belt buckle.

“You don’t think about it at the time. Any one of us would have done the same and I would do it again.”

PC Jamie Ball, 32, added: “I don’t think there’s time to think about anything – you can’t just stand around when there’s a man screaming that his partner might be inside.

“When you get called to an incident you just deal with what you’ve got in front of you. This is what we sign up for, we’ve got a duty to protect life.

“The fire service were very quick but I knew that someone may die if we waited.”

After coming out wheezing and with stinging eyes, they said they were a little frustrated but mainly relieved to be told by firefighters they had found no evidence of anyone inside.

They were given oxygen by the first fire crew on the scene to help them recover from their ordeal.

PC McVey was taken to Great Western Hospital in Swindon, where he was found to have severely high levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and was kept in for two hours.

Sergeant Andy Beaven said: “The main hero is PC McVey who was inside the longest, but all the officers went in.

“It was above and beyond the call of duty and they’re all a bit embarrassed about it because they don’t think anything of it.”

Firefighters received the emergency call at 2.35am and arrived on the scene eight minutes later. Four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus went into the flat.

  •  Amanda Wilkinson, 34, of Station Hill, has been charged with arson with intent to endanger life in connection with the incident.

She appeared at Swindon Magistrates’ Court on Monday, where she was remanded in custody and told to appear at Crown Court in the town on January 24.