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‘I could’ve been a goner!’: Handyman tells of moment he found pipe bombs in a London flat

A handyman who discovered two pipe bombs while cleaning out a London flat has spoken out about the terrifying experience. 

John Brooks, 55, found the bombs in a kitchen cupboard of a suburban house in Harlesden, North West London on Wednesday morning.

Mr Brooks who initially handled the devices thinking they were fireworks, told friends he ‘could have been a goner’ after the shocking revelation they were actually IEDs.

After heading home that evening Mr Brooks decided to learned the former tenant was an ex-soldier and urged his bosses to call the police.

A police tent has been erected outside the derelict flat in Harlesden, North West London, picture today, after two items suspected of being improvised explosive devices were found

A friend of Mr Brooks told the Sun: ‘He was just tidying up, cleaning and giving the place a lick of paint for the next tenant.

‘At first he thought they were bangers, so thought nothing much of it.

‘Once he realised who had built them, he felt very uneasy and realised that if they had gone off he’d have been killed.’    

Homes in Harlesden were evacuated on Wednesday after the devices were found in an unoccupied two-storey conversion just 100ft from the local police station.

An initial police assessment showed the devices were improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They were made safe and carried out of the flat to be examined.

This morning, a 48-year-old man was arrested by counter-terror officers as a landlord said he ‘never had a problem’ with the tenant who lived at the property.

Hamed Alikarami, 37, of letting agents Home Seekers 4U, said today: ‘I was at the address on Monday to inspect it and I saw nothing out of place. 

‘The tenant was moved a month ago after a problem with a leak. He was moved to a house in Hendon Central – we worked with him for over a year.

‘(He) was a man in his late 40s. He had two young daughters, one was about five.  I was called yesterday and told the maintenance man found something in the cupboard and called the police.

‘But when I checked on Monday I didn’t see anything wrong. But my boss said there was something there. (He) is a good tenant, very polite – he had some problems with his family before but I don’t know too much.’

The arrested man was taken to a police station – and neighbours claimed the flat has been unoccupied for years, with work carried out inside over the past few months.

Officers remain at the scene in Harlesden today as it emerged that police have arrested a man

Officers remain at the scene in Harlesden today as it emerged that police have arrested a man

One neighbour, who has lived on the street since August, said the tenant who lived in the Harlesden flat claimed to have been in the Army.

Kitchen porter Samir Hassan, 50, said: ‘He never has anyone over at his flat. He has been away quite a bit in the last months – he spoke all the time about his daughter. 

‘We meet outside where he smoke cigarettes in his shorts – he offers me one sometimes – he can be very kind. (He) has told me about his time in the military.

‘He said he was in the Army but he doesn’t give any details. He never has anyone at his place, I would say he is a loner and things are always quiet there.

‘We speak about football, he is really into that – but he didn’t say what he does for work. I see (him) sometimes, but he could disappear for some time.’

Police today used video probes to look for traces of explosives under floorboards, after a search team carrying a ramp and filming equipment arrived at the address.

One of the officers confirmed: ‘Every inch of the property will be searched to make sure it’s safe.’

A cordon tapes off the driveway where a tent has been erected following this morning's arrest

A cordon tapes off the driveway where a tent has been erected following this morning’s arrest

A neighbour living in the same block said: ‘The man who lives in the flat which police are searching is a white British guy aged in his 40s. He’s lived there for a while.’

Today, a blue and yellow evidence tent remained outside the large detached house – with a police cordon in place on the driveway. 

Detectives could be seen entering the building, which houses 12 separate flats, while groups of officers were patrolling the local area to ‘reassure the public’. 

Five miles away in Hendon, where a house was searched overnight, next-door neighbour Joseph Korn, 26, said: ‘I head a couple of bangs around midnight.

‘A few minutes later, there was a police officer with a torch looking for something in the garden next door.

‘There were two vans full of officers and unmarked cars parked further down the road. It was a major operation but we weren’t told anything to begin with.

A house in Hendon, North London, which was searched overnight in connection with the investigation. Neighbours said they heard 'a couple of bangs around midnight'

A house in Hendon, North London, which was searched overnight in connection with the investigation. Neighbours said they heard ‘a couple of bangs around midnight’

‘I’ve since found out that it’s connected to the explosives found at a flat in Harlesden and I’m now I’m quite worried. The house next door has been divided up into six bedsits. 

‘Most of the occupants have only been there two months. We don’t known them, there must be about ten people living in that property.’

A resident in the semi-detached house said: ‘I heard the police shouting late at night and they arrested someone from the back bedsit on the first floor.’

A neighbour called Bikini Tani, who lives in the flat next door, said: ‘I spoke to him a couple of times, he seemed a nice man. He was a former member of the military.

‘He walked with a limp which he said had been caused by an injury he picked up in the Army. He also said that he had a wife and kids but I never saw them.’

Residents said the house raided by police overnight had recently been converted into flats.

Angela Brownridge, a concert pianist, said: ‘I’d been playing at St James’ Piccadilly last night and came home about 11.30pm.

The tenant was moved from the property in Harlesden five miles away to Hendon (pictured)

The tenant was moved from the property in Harlesden five miles away to Hendon (pictured)

‘Within 30 minutes or so the whole street was full of police, there were at least three vans and several unmarked cars.

‘There were 15 to 20 officers in full riot gear with helmets and shields and others who had tasers trained on the front door.

‘Officers battered down the front door and later took out a tall man, who had very dark hair and what looked like a beard and moustache.

‘There was an officer who remained on standby outside the property all night.

‘That house has had a lot of building work done to it recently, the tenants have only been there over the last few months.’

Police discovered the bombs in a flat just a quarter of a mile away from Harlesden Primary School.

A police car and a tent outside the flat in Harlesden last night after police were called there

A police car and a tent outside the flat in Harlesden last night after police were called there

Residents were evacuated yesterday and kept outside for nine hours while specialist officers worked to deactivate the bombs.

Other neighbours reacted to the discovery of the devices. John Hamilton, 59, said: ‘The whole road was shut off yesterday with police everywhere.

‘I was told to stay inside because police had found a dangerous package there in the flats. Police kept telling us, it is dangerous don’t go out there, it is dangerous.

‘The flat upstairs at the front has been unoccupied for two years, you could see into it. Over the past several months workmen have been coming to and from the flat.

‘They were Bulgarian and Romanian men, they parked their vans outside.’

Noor Ali, 29, said: ‘I was really worried yesterday when police knocked on my door. They came in to tell everyone to stay inside because a ‘package’ had been found. 

‘Later on police reassured everyone here in my own flat. I’ve seen Eastern European builders coming to and from that flat for months.’

Police were called to reports of two suspicious devices found in the unoccupied flat

Police were called to reports of two suspicious devices found in the unoccupied flat

Another resident said: ‘All different people are living in the flats, it don’t surprise me. Police found a pipe bomb there – that’s what they said yesterday.

‘A mother and daughter were arrested in the last year for terror offences around the corner. They lived on Harlesden Road – they were from the Middle East area.’

While Ethel Amoah, 44, said: ‘There is all sorts of trouble around here – shootings, stabbings and drugs.

‘This is unusual though, I can’t see why they would operate in that flat with the police station around the corner.’

Counter terrorism detectives are ‘keeping an open mind’ in the investigation following the arrest.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘The 48-year-old man was arrested at a residential address in North London on Thursday on suspicion of an offence contrary to section 4 Explosives Substances Act 1883.

Police outside the flat where suspicious devices were found in Harlesden yesterday morning

Police outside the flat where suspicious devices were found in Harlesden yesterday morning

‘He was taken to a south London police station where he remains in custody.

‘At this early stage of the investigation, detectives do not believe that the arrested man has links to any terrorist organisations, or that there are any ongoing public safety issues.’

Chief Superintendent Simon Rose, North West Command Unit said: ‘I’d like to thank local residents in the area for their patience and understanding whilst we dealt with this incident today.

‘The public’s safety is our top priority, and I would like to pay tribute to the specialist officers who attended and were able to safely recover the devices.

‘I also want to reassure the local community that we have carried out precautionary searches in the surrounding area to make sure there was nothing else of a similar nature nearby, which I’m pleased to confirm is the case.

‘The next stage is to investigate how and why the two devices came to be in this flat and detectives from the Counter Terrorism Command will be leading this.’ 

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