Sunday, 9 September 2012

On A Knife Edge

I've had a very odd couple of days.

On Thursday, I was at home in the afternoon when I heard some screaming and raised voices. This is nothing unusual as we have very noisy neighbours below us. It continued and I realised it was coming from my much quieter nextdoor neighbour's flat. I went to our front door and opened it. Initially, I couldn't tell whether what I was hearing was sinister or not. I heard my neighbour whimpering and say "Get off me!" so I rang the doorbell. She said "There's someone at the door" and then shouted "Help!".

My neighbour opened the door and came out into our communal hallway. She was very flustered. She said "He's attacked me!" and she was rubbing her neck. A man followed her out. He very calmly said that he'd done nothing wrong and then, appallingly, he apologised to me. He left. My neighbour told me that he was her ex and that he had beaten her in the past. Suddenly she realised the time and said that she had to rush off to pick her daughter up from school. I offered to go with her, thinking that her ex couldn't have gone very far, but she declined. I needed to run a couple of errands, but I waited until after I heard her go in case he came back.

I came back about an hour later and did the washing up. Sarah came home from work and I told her what had happened. Soon after there was a very loud banging coming from the communal hallway. I got up and looked through the peep hole in our door. He was back. I opened our door to see him pounding on our neighbour's front door. He saw me and stopped immediately. Again, he was very calm, he apologised to me and without any irony said "it's just a domestic", and added "she won't let me see my child". I replied that I didn't think that now was a good time and once again he left. Our neighbour was very upset and took a bit of convincing to open the door. She called the police and when they arrived I told them what had happened.

Another hour or so later, we heard an incredibly loud bang and I rushed back to the front door. Our neighbour's door was ajar and she rushed out saying he was back and had kicked her door in. She called the police from our flat, while I stayed in the communal hallway. She didn't have her keys and I was concerned he could lock her out of her own flat. He came out of the flat and they argued. As the door opened and closed I could see the little face of their daughter looking out at me. She's about three or four and was sat in the bath with the door open. He returned to the front door and the argument continued. He said he'd nothing wrong. I could smell alcohol on his breath. He, our neighbour, Sarah and I were all stood in the very small confines of the communal hallway with both our front doors ajar. The conversation between the exes was brief, but must have lasted about a minute. She told him that the police were on their way. He very calmly said that he'd done nothing wrong and then he tried to stab her with a kitchen knife. He must have been holding it down by his side in his left hand for the entirety of the conversation, but we were stood at such close quarters that none of us noticed it.

I was stood behind him as he brought the knife up and towards my neighbour. I put my arms into the crooks of his elbows and pinned them behind him, which lessened his reach considerably. My neighbour attempted to get the knife out his hand, while Sarah pulled on his collar and grabbed his empty hand. He said he was going to kill her at least five times and said "I'm gonna stick this in ya" once. I managed to keep a hold of him, but he was very strong. It was all I could do to keep my balance. I tried to keep my eye on the knife, but his head kept getting in the way. I saw blood on the wall and that was the first I realised that somebody had been cut. I redoubled my efforts to keep his arms from moving. I saw that he had stabbed my neighbour in the skin between her thumb and forefinger. It was a deep cut, but she was still determinedly trying to get the knife off him. She was begging him to stop. She and Sarah both shouted for help, but no one came.

His strength was extraordinary, the three of us could barely hold him. Somehow, we turned ninety degrees, but our relative positions stayed the same. Now I was facing the corner between our two front doors. There was a tiny face peeking through our neighbour's door. It was her daughter. Sarah and our neighbour told her to go inside several times, but she just stared at us. Our neighbour begged him to stop again and said "I can't believe you'd do this in front of your own daughter". His demeanor remained exactly the same and he was still trying to stab her. I was really struggling to keep a hold on him. I told Sarah to go and knock on some doors, but she said daren't let go of him.

It seemed to go on forever. I'm sure it didn't. The police burst in and managed to get his knife hand cuffed and they disarmed him. The knife fell to the floor in front of our door. I lessened my grip. They got his other wrist cuffed and I could let go completely. The police hauled him out onto the landing and practically had to sit on him. I went out to see if I could help, but they had him under control.

I returned to the hallway and there was blood everywhere. On the walls, on the carpet, on my clothes, on Sarah's clothes, on my feet and, to my horror, Sarah's hands. I thought she had been cut, but she swore she was fine. Our neighbour's hands were a bloody mess. Her daughter was still stood at the doorway, naked with a towel at her feet. She was ushered into our flat, which meant walking by her bloodied and crying mother, through a bloodstained hallway and worst of all she had to shuffle her way passed the knife. Sarah covered her up and took her indoors.

The police back up had arrived and we had dozens of police officers in and out of our flat. The knife was enormous and, as it turned out, too big for the largest of the evidence tubes the police use to put such knives in. At some point the ex was taken away and an ambulance came to see to our neighbour's hands and she was taken to hospital in case she needed surgery.

I walked into our flat and our neighbour's daughter was sat watching television, but Sarah couldn't find anything suitable. I could see Sarah was rattled, but was putting on a brave face for the young girl. I looked through our DVDs to see if there was something that we could watch. Together, we settled on Ratatouille which proves that I am an idiot, because it is absolutely crammed full of perilous situations involving kitchen knives. The young girl watched it intently. At one point, she mimed choking herself and said that her Daddy was very cross.

The police were brilliant, they found her some clothes, a relative to look after her and whipped her away through the crime scene with her eyes closed like it was all a game. I was knackered, maybe the adrenalin was wearing off. The police photographer recorded all the blood spatters in the hallway. I told the police what had happened and they decided that they wanted to take a formal statement.

I arrived at the station at about nine thirty and I didn't begin making my statement until gone 10PM. The two CID officers interviewed me on tape and made notes as I spoke. They record onto two tapes simultaneously: one red, one yellow. It was a laborious process which entailed stating a lot of the obvious, describing the geography of the crime scene in more detail than you could ever expect to need and descriptions of all the individuals involved. The officers notes amounted to pages and pages, but when assembled into a printed format the statement was six pages long. I cannot fault the officers who interviewed me, because should this come to trial and should I be called as a witness, I'm sure I will be glad it is so thorough. The interview lasted the duration of three tapes and the reading of the eventual statement another took up another, which gives an eventual total of eight tapes. By the time it was finished it was half four in the morning. I was informed that our neighbour had been discharged from the hospital, which I took to mean that she hadn't needed surgery.

The police arranged a lift home for me. Sarah had waited up, unable to sleep. I was very tired and very hungry. Sarah told me she had heard the door to our communal hallway open and close several times, each followed by a phrase like "Oh my God, is that blood?"

On Friday, an inexplicably jolly pair of police photographers came and re-recorded the various blood splashes in the hallway this time with little markers (to give a context for size, I suppose) and had access to our neighbour's flat as well. Sarah made her statement in the afternoon and our neighbour returned home briefly to pick up some clothes and toothbrushes. Both her hands were bandaged.

Today, my arms and shoulders ache. We have been informed that the man is still in custody. I don't understand the process well enough to know what happens next.

I'm aware the tone of this is very factual and that normally when I write something I usually try to have a bit of fun with it, be playful with the language I use and possibly pair it with a silly picture. This doesn't seem the time or the place. I haven't used the names of my neighbour or her daughter because nobody reading this needs to know them, but I am ashamed to say that I didn't even know what their names were until this incident occurred.

Every police officer I have met or spoken to in connection with this has wanted to shake my hand, use words like bravery and thank me for what happened. I don't know what to say. I'm finding it all quite embarrassing, because I didn't plan any of it. It's also unfortunate that Sarah's part in it all seems to be diminished by everyone complimenting me. I doubt that I could have held onto him if she hadn't been there. I couldn't bear the thought that anything could have happened to her.

It puts plays I've been in, Top Ten lists and These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things from 1989 into perspective, doesn't it?


Sharon said...

I don't know what to say but I want to say something, I'm glad you're both ok and your neighbour is so lucky to have you both there...if you know what I mean x

Ricky said...

What a horrible incident. Well done mate, it could have turned out a lot worse.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

What, what an ordeal! Glad neither you nor Sarah were hurt. And if you hadn't gotten involved, who knows what would've happened to your neighbor.

Unknown said...

Well done to you both. If you hadn't helped out this story could have ended so differently. You've earned some major karma points now! Glad you're both ok xx

Loralie Hall said...

You both did an incredible thing. It's horrible that it was needed, but it's so amazing you stepped in.

SpacerGuy said...

Your courage and bravery is remarkable. I'm sure your neighbours take considerable comfort knowing you live next door.

fairyhedgehog said...

This is just so shocking. Many people would have thought it was none of their business and kept out of it - and the outcome would have been tragically different for your neighbour.

I could imagine feeling shaken for some time afterwards; I'm glad neither you nor Sarah was badly hurt.

AbiG said...

Dave, I notice that you are able to be factual about it even though it sounds horribly, horribly scary. You're the kind of guy who wouldn't even think about whether to do this or not. You did it because it was the right thing to do. You kept holding on to him because you'd hate to see anything happen to Sarah, and Sarah wouldn't leave either because of you. Then Sarah was amazing with the little girl.
You're both such good people, and selfless because you do the right thing.
So proud to be your friend

Dave said...

Thank you all for your comments. I don't really know what to say.