Hitchin family speak out after flat tyre prompts armed police raid on their home
PUBLISHED: 17:29 23 August 2017 | UPDATED: 18:21 25 August 2017
A care service manager who had a tyre puncture in Hitchin town centre today came home to have armed police raid his house.
Sukhi Rayat, of Fishponds Road, parked his BMW X1 in his yard and got out to have about a dozen armed officers with dogs suddenly rush in, push him against the wall of his house and put him in handcuffs.
“I’d been sitting in my car for a minute because I was calling the company I lease it from,” Mr Rayat told the Comet in his living room this afternoon.
“As soon as I stepped out, police came out of nowhere with the dogs and rifles and everything. It was like something you’d see on TV.”
Fishponds Road and part of Bunyan Road were closed for more than an hour around lunchtime while police searched what has been Mr Rayat’s family home since 1979 – with his 17-year-old son Harkeert put against a wall and handcuffed too.
Harkeert said: “I unlocked the door, and the officer pointed his gun at me and told me to put my hands up – then he grabbed me and threw me against the wall.
“They had me out there on the main road, being searched in handcuffs.”
Mr Rayat, 47, was made to wait in a police car while his family – all born and bred in Hitchin, apart from his mother – were searched outside, in full view of neighbours and passers-by.
“We’re quite well-known in the Sikh community here, so this was very embarrassing,” said Mr Rayat. “It was such an ordeal. Just horrendous.”
The raid came about after someone called police to report a gunshot coming from Mr Rayat’s orange car – but the allegation changed more than once, with Mr Rayat’s family also falsely alleged to have made gesticulations from the vehicle.
Mr Rayat said that by the third time officers took the complainant’s story, they were being told that a “pop” had been heard from his car.
Neither Mr Rayat nor his family heard a pop, but they presume that this must have come from the puncture they noticed after going to the High Street branch of Halifax at about noon for his mother to withdraw some cash.
“People are on edge at the moment,” said Mr Rayat. “I get that, and I totally get what the police have done. But this just shows people have a real lack of understanding about who’s who.
“We’re Sikhs. I don’t mean to point the finger at anyone else – but people should know who Sikhs are.
“I’m quite a strong person. I don’t really care – I know I’ve done nothing wrong, and we co-operated completely – but for the kids and my mum it’s another matter.
“To have such a ludicrous accusation made is quite hurtful. Fortunately, we’ve lived here so long people know us and what we’re like.”
Mr Rayat’s 20-year-old daughter Manmeet Kaur, a former Hitchin Girls’ School pupil, said: “The neighbours know us, so they were literally laughing because it was so bizarre to see. As a family we do a lot for Hitchin.”
The family are particularly upset that the officers ignored their request that they take off their shoes before entering a special upstairs room filled with Sikh religious items and texts – with bootprints clearly visible in the room after the raid was over.
Manmeet said: “You’re actually supposed to take off socks as well and cover your head, but we only said shoes. They couldn’t do that.
“It was scary, but now I feel more anger than anything else.”
Mr Rayat told the Comet this treatment of their religious room was “a massive insult” and “a direct attack on our religion by the police”.
Mr Rayat’s 75-year-old mother Krishna said the family had never experienced anything like this in half a century living in Hitchin.
She said: “I’m so proud of my kids and grandchildren, and nobody in our family would ever do anything of that nature.
“We specifically asked the police not to enter our Sikh religious room with shoes on. They entered with shoes on and we find that very disrespectful.”
Mr Rayat concluded: “We would like them to apologise officially – not just anyone, but the guys who came here specifically, because this was really a big insult.”
A police spokeswoman told the Comet: “Officers have a duty to act on information received and any reports involving firearms are taken very seriously.
“Police responded to a call at 12.09pm today from a member of the public who stated they had seen two men inside a car in Bunyan Road holding what they believed to be a firearm.
“Officers from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire (BCH) Armed Policing Unit, the BCH Dog Unit and North Herts Intervention attended the location.
“Armed officers detained a man and entered a property before carrying out a search to ensure there were no people inside the address with a firearm.
“A search of the car was also carried out. It was quickly established that there were no firearms present and everything was in order.
“We would like to stress that the occupants of the address searched have not committed any offences, nor were any arrests made.
“We apologise for any offence caused by the search. However, our main priority is to protect both the safety of the public and the safety of our officers, and detain any person or persons who are illegally in possession of a firearm.”