Members of the public have been warned to remain vigilant after Southend Town Centre was evacuated on Wednesday morning. An early-morning shopper raised the alarm after a man was heard making ‘unnatural noises’ inside a toilet cubicle close to the main High Street.
A witness said: ‘I was standing at the urinal, when all of a sudden I heard a deep grunting noise, and within a few seconds this developed into a growl and finally a high-pitched shriek. It all went silent for two seconds, before there was a huge thud and a splash – my friend called 999 at this point.’
‘We remained at the scene and noticed that the man didn’t exit the cubicle for a few minutes, and this made us realise that it may have been a terror incident developing. Armed police arrived a few minutes later.’
‘A squad kicked down the door and found a man slumped over the bowl – he was also losing a lot of blood and that’s when the order was made to evacuate as they were concerned that he had been overcome by the fumes of a dirty bomb. Four men in white bodysuits walked in and started assessing the toilet for a safe disposal procedure, it was terrifying, like a scene from ET or Die Hard III.’
‘Four attempts were made to flush the toilet, but these were ultimately unsuccessful. The nearest lavatory brush unit was still engaged in a similar operation on Canvey Island, so a senior officer walked into Poundland and took matters into his own hands.’
‘He returned with a pair of marigold gloves and a pot of baking soda. With breathing apparatus in place, the alkaline-heavy solution broke up the suspicious package and the threat was neutralised.’
The toilet user was named locally as Nathan Roughage, a French national who is already known to local counter-terrorism units after he was filmed urinating from the top of the Helter Skelter at Adventure Island in 2014 – the incident closed the whole theme park for 48 hours.
A spokesperson for Essex Police said: ‘We have detained an individual for the statutory seven-day questioning period under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Our investigations will begin once we have received a full gastroenterologist’s report.’