A POLICE officer has this afternoon tragically died after suffering severe injuries in a cycling race in Hampshire.

PC Rich Schofield, 33, lost his fight for life after spending two days critically ill in hospital.

The popular officer, who worked at Bitterne police station, was also a top cyclist and known for his passion for sport.

He suffered the injuries to his head and chest as he competed in a race at the velodrome at Portsmouth's Mountbatten Centre on Sunday.

He was rushed to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth but was sadly pronounced dead this afternoon.

Hampshire police described how Rich's main passion was for cycling and he represented the force throughout his career, competing in competitions and winning both national and international awards.

His most recent accolade was winning two gold medals and a silver at the World Police and Fire Games last year.

As flags were lowered to fly at half mast at both Winchester police headquarters and Netley's training HQ, tributes were today led to the “exceptional officer” by Hampshire's police chiefs.

Superintendent James Fulton, area commander for Southampton, said: “Richard was an exceptional officer. He worked in the city for all of his ten years service, and was universally popular - a first class officer, thief taker, colleague and friend.

“The whole force shares the pain of his family and friends, and at this time we remember Rich as a man who inspired so many and delivered so much.”

Chief Constable Andy Marsh competed at the World Police & Fire Games with Rich in Belfast last year.

He said: “I was proud to serve with Richard, and had the privilege of being one of the first of his colleagues to congratulate him on his gold medal when we competed together in Belfast last year.

“His service in the police was no less impressive, a first class officer, team player and friend to so many.

“He was a credit to Hampshire Constabulary and policing in many ways.

“Richard's loss will have a huge impact on friends and colleagues across the service, not only in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight but across the UK.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this tragic time.”

Rich, who grew up and went to school in Solihull, previously served in Portswood.