How To Kill A Burglar

Nairobi — One evening in the Kenyan capital late last year, my friend Sean Culligan endured an experience that, in several instructive ways, can be compared and contrasted with that of the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin. Sean is a mild-mannered man who, after retiring from the British military, settled in East Africa. He works for a medical charity that is held in high esteem. For a pastime he likes target shooting. He has a licensed pistol. “My military training tells me that if you have a gun, you should carry it,” Sean tells me. “If you carry it, you should be prepared to use it.”

The incident occurred on a Friday evening in Nairobi’s suburbs, where Sean had arranged to pick up a doctor and colleague named Suzanne from her house. They were going on to a meeting downtown. When he arrived, Suzanne’s three-year-old daughter had just been put to bed. She asked him to wait a few minutes in the living-room while she got ready to go out.

In her bedroom, Suzanne heard her dogs begin to bark outside. Because of the high crime level in Kenyan cities, most middle-class households employ a night-watchman. Suzanne couldn’t understand why her guard wasn’t calming the dogs down. She looked through the curtains but saw nothing. It was after seven, and since Nairobi is on the Equator, it was already dark. She walked out into the driveway to find out what was going on. Four men materialised out of the gloom. At least one of them was armed with a pistol, which he put against her head. He ordered her to keep quiet and re-enter the house.

Sean was sitting down in the living-room when he heard Suzanne cry out, “Don’t shoot me. Please don’t shoot me!” He heard a man’s voice tell her to shut up. Sean moved stealthily towards the living-room door. As he did so, he drew his gun and cocked it, knowing there was already a round in the chamber. He held it behind his back and stood in the doorway looking down the passage. A man rounded the corner, holding a pistol to Suzanne’s head. Two other men followed behind.

At this point I should mention that armed robberies in Kenya usually involve groups of raiders. Criminals frequently beat or murder any house occupants they encounter. If a woman has the misfortune to be in the house, they are likely to gang-rape her. Allow me to stand aside now and let Sean describe what happened next in his own words.

“I knew I would have to shoot, but I realised I would have to wait until the man with the gun moved it away from Suzanne’s head. So, I just stood there and stared at him. I was aware that he was shouting, but I was concentrating so hard on making him look at me and take the gun away from Suzanne’s head that I could not distinguish the words. After what seemed a very long time, which was probably only seconds, he waved the gun at me. I shot him twice in the stomach. I then quickly fired four more shots towards the two other men behind her. I think I hit one of them in the shoulder. He jumped into the air, then turned and ran out of the living-room with the other man.

“The man I had shot was lying on the floor, and reached out to grab me. As I turned to deal with him, I heard running footsteps, looked up, saw a muzzle flash and felt a terrific pain in my right ankle joint. I screamed and fell to the floor. Suzanne grabbed my gun from where I dropped it when I was shot and fired the entire magazine at the area where the shots came from. The robbers turned tail and ran, shooting the watchman through the leg as they left [he lived] and killing Suzanne’s dog with another bullet as it tried to defend the house and attack them.

“In the meantime, the man I had shot had recovered his weapon from the floor and was trying to point it at us. I rolled over on to him, blood pouring from us both, and fought with him for the gun. As we wrestled for the weapon it went off, and a bullet from his own gun hit him, passing through the palm of my right hand as it did so. He slumped forward, digging his teeth into my left inner forearm, and still fighting me for the gun. Suzanne attacked him with my by-now-empty gun, beating him over the head with the barrel while I tried to prise his teeth from my arm. I took the gun from Suzanne while she ran into her living-room to grab an ornamental sword she had on the wall. She returned with the sword, swinging it at the man on the floor, without any effect on the action of his teeth. I sank my teeth into his ear and managed to pull him off while beating him over the head with my gun butt. Suzanne continued to attack him with the sword and he slumped into a corner. I took the sword from Suzanne and held it tight against his throat. He seemed to lose consciousness.”

Still terrified that the other gunmen would return, Suzanne pressed the alarm bell that would call one of Nairobi’s private rapid-response security firms. Sean tried to make a call on his mobile, but his hands were so soaked with blood that it slipped from his fingers. “Suzanne took out her doctor’s trauma bag and put a drip in my arm, devised a splint from rolled newspapers and tried to stem my bleeding with the closest things she could find, which happened to be her daughter’s clothes. I took the belt off the gunman and wrapped it around his leg for a tourniquet, using the gun barrel as a lever to try to put pressure on the artery.”

At this point the rapid-response security men arrived. Armed with clubs and shields, they stood over the prone gunman as Suzanne transferred her attention to Sean’s shattered ankle. Suddenly, the gangster’s mobile rang in his pocket. He regained consciousness and, despite his wounds, attempted to answer it. “I screamed at the guards to disable him and grab the telephone, believing it could be his accomplices calling, perhaps to bring reinforcements,” Sean said. “The security guards smacked the man hard with their clubs, picking up the mobile phone as he dropped it, not answering it. The man finally rolled over, dying on the spot. The police arrived, along with an ambulance and doctor.”

Despite his ordeal and the agony he was suffering, Sean behaved with characteristic decency and asked Suzanne not to allow her daughter to see the mess he and the room were in. It turned out that the little girl had slept through the entire struggle. Police later recovered 36 rounds of assorted calibres from the crime scene. The bullets fired by the gangsters at Sean were found in the wall, two inches from where his head had been.

At the hospital, the doctors told Sean that apart from a V-shaped wound in the palm of his hand, together with numerous bites, cuts and bruises, one bullet had blown his ankle-bone into tiny fragments. Sean said it was like “a small bag of sand.” He was flown to South Africa, where surgeons fitted a steel pin linking foot to knee, which is the only thing that holds his foot on to his leg. He still walks with a pronounced limp, but appears amazingly upbeat about his progress. He has suffered two or three nightmares, not reliving the scene so much as enduring new configurations of violence.

I asked Sean what went through his head during the ordeal. “I remember being very angry,” he replies. “Cool outside, but inside wondering, ‘How dare these people think they can come and just do what they want to anyone, anywhere?’ I’ve lost that anger now, but kept the coldness. I also get a sense of achievement that for once two ‘normal’ people fought back against a rising tide of lawlessness. The main thing is, I am alive. After that everything is a bonus.”

Aidan Hartley is a columnist for The Spectator.