Hero of the year: 'I skelped him in the face and booted him twice'

His heroism in the Glasgow airport attack thrust him into the spotlight. Now he wants his anonymity back
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The Independent Online

He's met the Prime Minister, is about to see the Queen and he's been feted in New York. Ask John Smeaton, the baggage handler who became legendary for "setting aboot" a would-be terrorist in June, to pick the high point of his past six months in the public eye and it's none of the above, however. It's stepping out on the turf at Ibrox and soaking up the applause from the Rangers faithful.

Smeaton, 31, is a modest man and is eager to regain his anonymity after a week in which he heard that the Queen's Gallantry Medal will be added to other honours for his bravery.

He didn't intend any of this fuss when he saw a flaming car crash into the Glasgow airport terminal where he works as a baggage handler. He simply followed his instincts and got stuck in.

"The guy in the passenger seat got out and ... kicked and punched a man to the ground before punching a policeman square in the face," he said at the time. "That sort of thing just isn't on. I told my passenger to run for her life, then I went for the man and managed to skelp him in the face. I followed it up by booting him twice.

"Then the driver got out of the car ... I ran for the guy and punched him twice in the face with pretty good right hooks. Then I kicked him with full force right in the balls but he didn't go down. Luckily more people joined in, and we managed to beat the guy down."

It was when he was interviewed by ITN the following day that he uttered the immortal words of defiance that struck a chord around a world which has not only spent the past few years terrified of terrorist attacks, but seen that fear encouraged rather than faced down by politicians.

"This is Glasgow," he warned potential terrorists. "We'll just set aboot you." Since then he has been living in a surreal wonderland.

"My life has changed dramatically in the past six months," he says now. "I'm still the same person: it's just more exciting things have gone on meeting the Prime Minister, meeting the First Minister, meeting the Rangers players, going to America twice. Stuff that I've never done before in my life, and never thought of doing.

"When I went on to the pitch at Ibrox I was quite humbled by the cheer I got.

"I never expected any of it. I just hit the guys as hard as I could and didn't think about what was happening," he says.

One of the opportunities that has come his way is a new job as a security manager in airport car parks across the country. No doubt his fearsome reputation will see off any potential troublemakers. He is looking forward to the day he isn't recognised any more.

"I finish my old job in the next couple of days," he says. "I'm always going to be a working man; that's my ethics in life. I'll look back on the last few months and say 'what an adventure'.

"You come from obscurity so going back isn't going to bother me at all. It'll be great the day I can I walk down the street and nobody recognises me. I was anonymous before and you miss your anonymity."

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