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At the heart of general practice since 1960

How I survived carjacking with a meat cleaver

Dr Alan Gilman describes his terrifying carjacking ­

and advises other GPs

'Don't be a hero'

iolence is nothing new in the community I work in. In the past I've found myself in casualty twice, and every car I've ever owned has been vandalised or broken into. But having a meat cleaver waved in front of my face last week and a lad screaming 'cut him, cut him' was a traumatic introduction to the world of carjacking.

Many of my patients are drug addicts so I'd learnt to be cautious in my car. It was a high-performance Subaru Imprezza and had been fitted with the latest alarms and a tracking device, but these were no use to me on this particular evening, for I was sitting in the car park outside a supermarket with good illumination, only 50 feet from the main entrance.

I was talking on my cell phone with my engine running, which I can now see was a mistake. Also I hadn't locked the car from the inside as I might have done in a bad neighbourhood; after all I'd been using this supermarket for years.

I realised I shouldn't resist

It's difficult even in hindsight to see what warning I could have had. Two youths strolled across the car park and suddenly wrenched the door open. One of them, the one with the cleaver, jumped in and shouted: 'We're taking the car. Leave the engine running.' The other one was screaming 'cut him, cut him'. He was hyped up with nerves and adrenaline.

I immediately realised the thing to do was not to resist. I thought: 'This is a car jacking.' I went into slow motion ­ seat belt undone very slowly, climbing out of the car very slowly. I was talking to them all the time: 'Yes you can have the car, the car's all yours.' I was very slow and deliberate, trying to keep them calm, almost trying to reassure them.

I watched them roar away. It was like a dream. It was also ridiculously like a movie. The youths actually did burn rubber on the tarmac.

I rang the police and they gave me a lift to the station. They took things more seriously than usual because of the meat cleaver: worryingly, the use of a weapon is becoming commonplace to ensure rapid compliance by the driver. The area where I practise is certainly a tough one, with overspill estates, domestic violence and so forth. The police told me there was almost certainly nothing personal in it ­ the car would be used for a robbery.

And so it transpired. The youths robbed an off-licence in the neighbourhood and then presumably went for a joy ride as the car was found 10 miles away, written off.

Interestingly my briefcase was in the boot untouched. Also, the hi-tech tracking equipment was disassembled. Car thieves now know a great deal about dealing with tracking equipment. One trick is to drive a car into a container, where you can work at leisure dismantling the tracker.

Lessons to be learned

So, now the episode is over, are there any lessons to be learned?

First, you are always a potential victim. Some friends of mine were recently relieved of their BMWs at shotgun point. Second, there is no way you can guarantee avoiding this sort of crime, however hard you try. In my case, I had obeyed most of the 'rules'. I was parked in a well-lit area. There were people about. The area was covered by CCTV cameras. Security personnel were on patrol.

Naturally I would advise all GPs to take these sensible precautions, but the best advice I can give is ­ don't be a hero. Pacify your attackers and walk away. Otherwise you could get badly hurt and it just isn't worth it.

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