Patient killed holding hostage

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A supermarket cashier yesterday described the moment that a psychiatric patient was shot by police marksmen as he held the store manager hostage.

Lorraine Nicholls, a cashier at the Co-op in Ward End, Birmingham, told an inquest how on 20 November last year she saw schizophrenic David Howell enter the store and take manager, Paul Murray, hostage at knifepoint.

Mrs Nicholls said she shut her eyes as she saw Howell plunge the knife towards her colleague and then heard the shots ring out as the armed officers fired.

The shop assistant, giving evidence at the Birmingham inquest into the 40-year-old psychiatric patient's death, said that Howell had entered the store in an agitated state talking about contract killings.

The inquest heard that Howell, an outpatient at the Highcroft Hospital in Erdington, Birmingham, was killed by police marksmen after disappearing from the hostel where he lived.

Mrs Nicholls said she was working behind the cigarette counter when Howell came in through the main door. She said: "He kept on saying contract kill and `don't call the police'. He didn't come in to be served. I rang the security bell for Mr Murray, the manager."

Howell approached Mr Murray and they began talking, while standing just a few feet away from her. Howell "seemed a bit agitated" but the manager did not seem to be in any danger. Mrs Nicholl said she then pressed the panic button which alerted police to a major incident in the store. Officers tried to negotiate with Howell, but he told them that Mr Murray was going to die "the contract kill".

Two of the officers moved forward. Howell brought the knife up and lunged it into Mr Murray "and then shots rang out".

The hearing continues.