Heroic ex-policemen who acted more like the SAS

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The Independent Online
Two former policemen recalled yesterday how they risked their lives by diving on top of an exploding grenade in a restaurant in Ethiopia - an act of bravery more akin to the SAS than the average constable's basic training.

John Bown and Blair Davies, who used to serve with the Northamptonshire and Derbyshire forces, suffered serious lacerations as they took the brunt of the blast which rocked the Blue Tops restaurant in the East African country's capital, Addis Ababa, on Saturday night.

Their actions may well have saved the lives not only of their wives, with whom they were dining, but also the other guests in the restaurant. Neither man was specially trained in anti-terrorist measures.

The blast has forced the Foreign Office to review its advice to travellers to Ethiopia and to warn that further attacks on high-profile Western targets cannot be ruled out.

Speaking from their hospital beds in Addis Ababa yesterday, Mr Bown and Mr Davies recalled the harrowing seconds after they saw the grenade fly into the centre of the restaurant.

"We instinctively threw ourselves on the explosive to protect our wives from serious injuries," said Mr Bown, a former superintendent.

"Thank God our wives escaped with light injuries."

Mr Davies added: "Our injuries are painful but not life-threatening."

It was still not clear last night whether the men, both in their 50s and with 30 years service in the police, had been deliberately targeted because of the nature of their work in Ethiopia - they are part of a three- man team involved in a pounds 4.9m British Government training programme to restructure the Ethiopian police force. Their year-long project was due to finish next month.

The men's present employer, a contractor called RIPA International, paid tribute to them.

Lawrence Eaton, the company's director, said: "It was a bloody brave thing to do and very impressive. We're now working hard to get them back to Britain. As far as we can gather there was no question of them being personal targets."

After visiting the men in hospital, a British Embassy nurse, Janet Duff, said their conditions were "improving steadily".

"They are able to chat and they are feeling an awful lot better than they did on Saturday night. Things are looking good for a full recovery, but they are still in quite a lot of pain from their injuries," she said.

Saturday's incident was the latest in series of attacks on hotels in Ethiopia in the past 15 months, according to the Foreign Office.

"Various political groups are thought to be responsible for the attacks. Their aims are to discredit and embarrass the government by attacking further high profile targets," said an FO spokesman.

"Further indiscriminate attacks cannot be ruled out and visitors should be alert at all times."

Matthew Brace