When police were faced with a mentally-ill man in a coffee shop clutching a child and pointing makeshift weapons at her head, the terrifying situation spanned six hours and resulted in the safe rescue of the child.
Inspector Paul Hennessy, who was on the scene that day, has revealed for the first time what he and his fellow officers faced just after lunchtime on Monday, February 3, inside Costa coffee shop in Friar Lane, in the heart of Nottingham city centre.
It was a normal run of the mill day, he recalls, when the city centre team requested negotiators to an incident at the coffee shop where a man had taken an ill child hostage.
Insp Hennessy said: “He’d armed himself with a number of makeshift weapons which he held to the child’s head including a fork, a sharpened pencil, which sounds quite innocuous, but the reality was it was a really sharp pencil with thick lead which he was holding next to the child’s forehead.
“He had removed the child’s intravenous feeding tube from the stomach. He’d wrapped that round his finger and, again it was a clear sign to us that, ‘don’t come near me because I have removed the tube, I’m holding weapons to her head'”.
A police negotiator was brought in. Officers and medics from East Midlands Ambulance Service were also with the man and the child for six hours inside.
The streets of Nottingham were busy, people began to congregate, take pictures and film what was happening as the police presence grew in response to a volatile and aggressive man inside – an incident which to begin was in full view from the shop’s large glass-fronted facade.
Ever conscious of this, community protection officers arranged for dustbin lorries to be parked outside to block the view and firefighters brought in screens to cover the large windows.
“Some of the customers actually left of their own accord but the officers on the scene ushered most of them out,” said Inspector Hennessy.
“You can imagine he (the man) was pacing about shouting and screaming, and most people took the decision to leave. Some, including the staff, were ushered to the basement downstairs, because that was the safest place for them to go. So for the entirety of the six hours a lot of staff and some customers remained in the basement of the location”.
It was quite clear that the initial negotiation was failing. The man had a deep mistrust of anybody in authority including the police, added Insp Hennessy.
“There was no doubt when we were looking at him that we thought this child could be killed in front of our eyes.
“So because of this scenario that we were faced with sharp weapons to the head, small child, lots of illnesses, we assessed how we were going to resolve this incident. Clearly trying to use force against him was not an option at that time and it was clear to me, as the commander on the ground, that our only option was negotiation”.
More negotiators were drafted in. Police were told by the hospital the child could last up to 12 hours before infection would cause her serious issues due to the sudden removal of the feeding tube.
Insp Hennessy, whose role involves managing the response to all emergency and critical incidents reported to Nottinghamshire Police, and his colleagues assessed how they were going to resolve the incident.
“Clearly trying to use force against him was not an option at that time and it was clear to me, as the commander on the ground, that our only option was negotiation”.
The man was pacing around the interior of the coffee shop, sitting down on chairs, sitting down on tables, engaging with the negotiators infrequently and, when he did, he shouted abuse at them.
At one of his briefings, Insp Hennessy said that if an opportunity presented itself, they could use force to safely retrieve the child and restrain the man.
The opportunity came.
After six hours of negotiation, the man put down a fork that he held against the child’s head and he managed to open his rucksack. He produced a sharpened pencil and held it against the child’s head.
She was clearly getting tired, the child was getting increasingly lethargic, was crying throughout, was clearly really, really distressed, said Insp Hennessy. Police were now within a metre of him.
“Six hours he was pacing around and then he took an opportunity to sit down on a table. He had one foot on a chair. He had the pencil against the child’s forehead, making various threats, and then he dropped the pencil that he was using as a weapon against the child”.
To retrieve the pencil, he took his eye off police and he very slightly loosened his grip on the child, and police seized their moment to bring the fraught situation to an end.
Insp Hennessy said: “We were all in sync, we all saw this was the opportunity and we had to take it. So I gave the instruction to ‘go’ and we approached him and as we did so, he saw us coming, he again tightly gripped the child to his chest – who was screaming out in pain – but at that point we all managed to take hold of various parts of his body; his legs, his arms, his upper arms. One officer took hold of his hair – he had long greasy, shoulder-length hair, and we essentially used force in order to restrain him, while an officer removed the child from his grasp.
“It took what felt like an eternity to do it and, as the commander and somebody who took the decision, I took hold of him and he gripped the child really, really strongly, as you can imagine he was really, really aggressive.”
The child was sent over to the waiting paramedics.
Remarkably, he added, she was a resilient child, so was essentially unharmed, and spent a night in hospital under observation.
And he said: “It was a real fantastic team effort between all the emergency services and our colleagues from community protection”.
The team has been given a police award for what they did that day.
He was charged with cruelty to a person under 16 years.
He was “found to have done the act” by a jury, and a hospital order imposed without restriction.