How a chef's three-year battle against a giant rat ended in an armed police call-out
PUBLISHED: 06:00 25 May 2018 | UPDATED: 19:11 26 May 2018
It all started with a simple plan to kill a large rat.
But it ended with a chef and his housemate being arrested by armed police in the city centre.
Johnny Thorpe unknowingly sparked a major incident in Norwich last month when he used an air rifle to try and clear a private courtyard of rodents.
While the 29-year-old had permission from his neighbours at Rigby Court, the public was unaware of his intentions.
And after he was spotted by someone on Bethel Street, the situation rapidly spiralled out of control.
“I set myself up in a bedroom window with a few cans of beer and some food, and was just listening to Moby Dick on audio book,” Mr Thorpe said.
“And the next thing I know there was a policeman pointing a gun at the window where I was.”
The chef had only owned his .22 calibre rifle for just over 24 hours.
He purchased it to bring an end to a three-year battle against the rats in his shared courtyard.
Mr Thorpe, supported by his housemates and neighbours, had tried everything from deploying humane traps to poison. But he said nothing seemed to work.
“We keep seeing this big one that we call Steve,” Mr Thorpe said.
“He goes through all the bins and makes a mess out here.
“He ate the poison we put down, but it didn’t seem to have any affect, so we thought we would try an air rifle.”
Mr Thorpe purchased the air rifle for a “couple of hundred quid” from Hoopers Surplus in Pottergate on April 16.
He said he sought advice from staff on the type of gun to purchase, eventually picking one with a scope.
Later that day he managed to kill his first rat in the courtyard.
“I have never done anything like it before, and I have never killed an animal in my life,” he said.
“But the rats were getting closer to coming into our house, and they were becoming more confident.”
The next day on April 17, while he was off work, Mr Thorpe again set up watch with his air rifle from a first-floor bedroom window.
He made some food, had a drink, and was listening to Moby Dick on audiobook in the background.
He said everyone in the walled courtyard knew he was “pest controlling” - but not the public.
“The problem is that there’s a tiny gap through the courtyard,” He said. “If you are on the opposite side of the road, by Pedal Revolution, you have a pretty good view of the window I was in.”
Unbeknown to Mr Thorpe, a member of the public had spotted him, and called police shortly after 5.10pm.
By the time Mr Thorpe returned to the window after a brief break, armed police were already in position.
“I think I was about a third of the way in [to the Moby Dick audio book] before the police put a stop to my shenanigans,” he said.
“The officer shouted ‘you in the window, hands up’.
“I knew straight away what had happened.”
Mr Thorpe said he immediately went down to the front door of his rented terraced home and walked out with his hands in the air.
At both ends of the alley, between Bethel Street and St Giles Street, armed police were waiting.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “I have never had a real gun pointed at me.
“I was there in the alley with my hands up, holding a half-empty beer can.”
Mr Thorpe was arrested along with his housemate who had only recently returned home from work. Police also seized the air rifle.
A woman who was interviewed by a reporter at the time said the handcuffed pair did not look like “criminals”.
Mr Thorpe and his housemate spent eight hours at Wymondham police station before being released at around 3am on April 18.
“It felt really serious until the point where we were interviewed and then I think they realised we were not criminals,” he said.
Mr Thorpe praised the professionalism of the officers involved and apologised to anyone he may have scared.
“I never intended to scare anyone, and whoever I did scare, I am really sorry,” he said.
Norfolk Police confirmed no further action was taken against Mr Thorpe and his housemate.
A police spokesman said both men were found to be shooting for pest control “on their own property”, with a legally held air weapon and with the consent of their neighbours.
One month on from the ordeal, an apologetic Mr Thorpe said: “It was a once in a lifetime experience, hopefully.
“Basically the rat won again.”
Chief inspector Kris Barnard, of the roads policing and firearms operations unit, has this advice for people wanting to use a gun legally:
Take account of where you are, what you are using and ensure what you are doing is legal
Let your neighbours know what you are doing and why
Be considerate about noise
Be aware of public highways and paths. Remember it is an offence to have a firearm in a public place without reasonable excuse.
Do not shoot close to highways where you may cause distress or danger. You can be prosecuted for shooting within 50 feet of the centre of a public highway.
Never trespass with a firearm of any sort, including air weapons, to do so is a serious criminal offence.
Contact police on 101 or via our website and let us know you are going to be shooting.
In regard to pest control, Norwich City Council offers a charged service which can be found on its website.