A workman has spoken of the shocking moment he discovered the military-style suspicious package which brought Leighton Buzzard town centre to a standstill.
Shortly after 8am on Friday, Aaron Kenehan arrived for what he thought would be another routine day helping with the ongoing repairs to Santander in Hockliffe Street following the recent ramraid.
But instead he stumbled upon the box in a raised flower box between the bank and Wilkinson Estate Agents and immediately taped off the area and raised the alarm.
Mr Kenehan, from Dartford, said: “I was repairing Santander and I turned up in the van, was drinking a cup of tea and I saw a box.
“I had a look and it said ‘explosives’ on it and I went to tell someone inside the bank.
“I had some tape because every day we have to cordon the corner of the street off because of the work to the bank, so I taped off where the box was.
“If it hadn’t said ‘fuses’ and ‘detonators’ on it with serial numbers on the side I would have opened it up for a look.
“It is a strange coincidence that this happened the week after the bank was targeted.
“Is it a case of the people being disgruntled with the bank from last time?”
Simon Wilkinson, owner of Wilkinson Estate Agents, called the police and had praise for their swift response.
He said: “At about 8.20am ourselves and the workmen at Santander saw a military explosives container in the raised flower bed.
“It had all military explosive markings on it saying it contained explosive detonators.
“I called the emergency services and the police got here very quickly and proceeded to evacuate and set up the emergency cordon. The bomb squad were here in 30 minutes.
“It is interesting that it was placed behind the workers’ barriers. Someone had to go across the tapes and barrier to put it there.
“The most shocking thing was people crossing through the police barrier despite being told not to.”
The incident caused Hockliffe Street, Hockliffe Road, North Street, Lake Street, and the High Street to be closed for several hours.
As the crowd shivered in the cold waiting to get to their parked cars, to work, or to go shopping, a loud bang was heard at 10.37am as the bomb squad carried out a controlled explosion on the box.
Police subsequently confirmed the package was never a threat and roads reopened at 11.08am. They added that they do not believe the incident was linked to the recent ramraid.
As the incident developed, one shopper, from Heath and Reach, told the LBO she had been shivering waiting for the cordon to be lifted for a couple of hours: “I dropped the kids off to school and went to WHSmiths.
“When I came out of the shop all the cordons were in place. All the cafes were full up as people went in and grabbed a coffee. There was nothing else e to do and it was so cold.
“The police were turning people back. The cordon was originally at Iceland and now it has been moved back [to near HSBC] as people were obviously too close.”
Of the controlled explosion, she added: “It was loud and very worrying. It makes you worry about what it was.”
She said: “I don’t want to get a car parking ticket as I parked in a half hour bay in North Street. I can’t wait here much longer. I’ve been offered a lift back home, but if I come back later I’ll probably end up with a ticket.”
Several shop workers told the LBO that although their premises were just outside the cordon they had been advised to shut up shop nevertheless.
One woman, hugging a hot drink, said: “At around 9am a policeman came in and said ‘you need to get out’. We said they’d just found a package and needed to make it safe. We’ve just been trying to keep warm since and have been to Costa and Waitrose.”