Have you ever wondered how you would react if someone threatened your life? I used to watch Crimewatch and see the re-enactments and wonder ‘How would I have handled that situation’? Now, I don’t have to imagine, I know! I have been in several precarious situations and every one of them invoked the same gut instincts.
The most prominent example happened a few years back. I was working for my local bank. It had been a fairly busy day and I had finally managed to escape to grab a cup of tea. I brought my drink behind the counter with me and could not believe that a queue had built up so quickly. I called for the next person to approach and hoped that it was not going to be one of those customers that wanted to credit coppers to 12 different accounts before asking for a £3 withdrawal.
The next customer was really fidgety and could not seem to make up his mind whether to come forward. He was wearing one of those SAS style balaclavas and I remember thinking what a pillock he looked. Eventually he stood before my till and handed me a note. It was poorly and inarticulately scrawled on well used paper. It read ‘I have a gun; give me all the money in your till’ (well, it would have said that if it was spelled correctly). I looked up at his balaclava covered head and met his agitated eyes. Those eyes spoke the words which he dared not say. He was afraid of what he was doing!
He lifted his jumper at the hip to reveal the gun nestled into his waistband. My reaction was unexpected. In such a situation I had always imagined that I would be terrified. During training within the bank on raid procedures, I remember having had a discussion about how, for the sake of others safety, one should immediately hand over the money as it was not worth risking either yours or another’s life. That training went right out the window; I was Pissed Off!! How dare this bloody idiot try to frighten me! How dare he threaten me!!
I continued to look him in the eye and replied “You have got to be kidding me. Take your pathetic letter and sling yer hook – Pratt” I sat back on my stool, closed my till whilst secretly tripping the alarm and in an act of total defiance, picked up my cup of tea. At that moment my manager approached me to ask why I had stopped working. I gestured in a bored manner towards the potential robber and said “This idiot says he has a gun and wants me to give him money”. It was not until I registered the fear on her face that it occurred to me what a dangerous situation we were ALL in. As she dashed out of the room the robber became frustrated, this was obviously not going as he had planned. Then to my horror, he took a hostage.
A man who could only be described as average looking was at the next till. The gunman dragged him across to face me and put the gun to his head. I remember feeling a sharp, hot rush shoot up my spine. I was still angry but now my anger was directed internally. As the victim locked eyes with mine I could feel his silent plead “Help me”.
Although I was not the bad guy in this scenario, I played a reluctant yet crucial part of putting that poor man in the position. A ‘have a go hero’ tackled the gunman to the ground, threw the gun across the banking hall and pinned down the vile threat. A short fight ensued before the gunman fled; his balaclava in the hero’s hand was to enforce his punishment later. My punishment is ongoing. I had no right to let my anger endanger the lives of others.
My colleagues at the bank thought me brave. I later heard them discussing how they were glad that the gunman had chosen my till as they believed that anyone else would have gone to pieces. In some respects they were right. Tears flowed freely from several cashiers that day and they found it difficult to return to work for a while. I had no fear to contend with. They say that people react to danger with either a fight or flight response and I guess, for me, the fight instinct is stronger.
I do not believe my actions were brave however, just irresponsible. I probably cried more than all the others that night because of the guilt. The hostage’s silent plead still haunts me, and no doubt haunts him too.