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June 3, 2011 9:48 pm

First Person: Jamie Waller

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When bailiff Jamie Waller was held at gunpoint, he offered to make his captor a cup of tea
Jamie Waller

I used to run a second-hand car dealership but when the council restricted parking outside my showroom, sales went down. I began to think that with all the parking restrictions and fines in London, perhaps I could make a better living as a bailiff.

About six weeks in to my new job, I was on a housing estate in Peckham when I realised the dangers bailiffs face. It was 5.15am and I got into a lift; there was a police sign saying a man had just been fatally shot there. I dashed out of the building. But, with experience, you get a feel for the risks and within six months I was the company’s best collector.

I treated each collection as a sale. I was always polite. Three years into the job, I turned up at a country house with electric gates and a Bentley outside. A woman let me in and I was waiting in the kitchen, thinking what a lovely house it was, when a man appeared and began shouting that he was going to set his boys on me. I stood firm and told him his debt wasn’t going to go away with threats.

He left the room and I began dialling the office from my mobile to get police back-up. The phone was still ringing when the man came back. This time, he had a shotgun and he pointed it at me. I quickly hid the phone and told the man I’d leave. I was trying to stay calm but I was the most scared I’d been in my life. I was shaking, sweating and my mouth had gone dry.

I was still holding my phone with what I hoped was an open line. I was saying things like “I wouldn’t have expected this to happen at such and such an address.” And “if I called the police they’d have armed response here in seconds”.

But this man was still shouting and waving the gun; his wife was screaming. I told him I’d go, that it was just a job for me but he made me sit down and ordered his wife out of the room. I warned you, he said, now look what you’ve done. He picked up his phone and said, “I’ve got a bailiff here. Get some lads around here now”.

About 10 minutes later, the doorbell went. I braced myself. But then I heard the woman shouting that armed police had arrived. They surrounded the house and tried to communicate with us. My mobile phone was ringing constantly; the landline was going and one of the police was ringing the doorbell.

The man kept telling me that he would never go back to prison. We talked like that for six hours. It was horrible. Then he went silent. After two hours of silence, I felt more confident. I asked him if I could make a cup of tea. He told me not to do anything stupid. I just want a cup of tea, I said. I’ll make you one too. I made the tea and sat closer to him at the table. I told him we could do a deal. I’d tell the police there was no gun and that if he let me go I’d tell them that it was blown out of all proportion. Finally, he agreed and went upstairs to hide the gun and I ran out of the house. The police swarmed in.

I don’t know what came over me but when they’d arrested the man, I told the police I didn’t want him to get away without paying. They told me I was mad, that I should just go home but I went back inside the house where the guy was in handcuffs. I told him to pay the original £700 plus £150 for each hour I’d been held. Also, in the scramble to leave, I’d ripped my jacket. I charged £75 for that. It came to £1,700. His wife took out a wad of cash and paid me!

The next day at work, my bosses were treating the whole thing as a joke. I was angry and after a couple of months, I handed in my notice. I booked a ticket to Australia. I just ran away. But after 18 months, it dawned on me that I’d been good at my job. I came home and in 2004 I set up my own bailiff company, JBW Group. I decided I’d employ only former salesmen. They’d wear uniforms and be respectful.

I never did find out what happened to the guy who took me hostage. The police wanted me to be a witness but I refused. I knew his type. If I’d said anything in court to make him serve longer inside, he’d have come after me. But as it was, he left me alone.

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