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Bomb squad called to siege at Watford bank

A man with a fake bomb strapped to his body caused panic on the streets of Watford yesterday, after entering a bank and threatening staff.

In scenes reminiscent of the film Dog Day Afternoon, police and army bomb disposal officers surrounded the Co-operative Bank in the Hertfordshire town, after the 23-year-old man walked in at around 10am.

A three-and-a-half hour siege ended when the man walked out and surrendered to armed police. He was last night being questioned amid reports that his actions were part of a vendetta against the bank. A Hertfordshire police spokesman confirmed that soon after the incident an "explosive device of some kind" had been removed from the man, although it was later discovered to be harmless.

The spokesman added: "We would like to reassure the public that there is no suggestion that this is linked in any way to terrorist activity."

Police confirmed no shots had been fired and that no hostages had been taken inside the bank. Chief Inspector Mike Pryce of Hertfordshire police said: "What unfolded... was a complicated and fast-moving situation, which came to a successful and safe resolution with a suspect agreeing to surrender.

"This was achieved through the assistance of bomb disposal experts from the Ministry of Defence." Witnesses described police marksmen training their weapons on the bank. Ryan Saunders, 22, said: "There were lots of people panicking and then I saw the bomb disposal van speed past me. Everyone was desperate to get away."

Other witnesses said they saw staff from the bank crying outside the branch after the incident had been brought to a safe conclusion.