Children were left traumatised after witnessing a hammer-wielding ‘maniac’ in a sports centre foyer – and police have now released CCTV images of the man they want to speak to.
The man – who is thought to have lashed out after getting a £60 parking fine – used a club hammer to smash two touchscreen parking consoles at Sportspace in Hemel Hempstead, causing hundreds of pounds’ damage.
The incident happened at around 6.20pm on Saturday (November 14), as children and adults were leaving after the Dolphin Swim session for the disabled.
A witness said the man’s agressive shouting at staff left youngsters screaming in fear, including her two young sons aged four and six.
The mother-of-two, who wished to remain anonymous, says the man threatened to hit her husband in front of their children when he tried to appease him.
She said: “My husband went up to him to try and calm him down, but this maniac said if he came any closer he would hit him, so my husband stepped back.
“He was swearing at staff, asking for his money back – so I assume he had got a parking ticket.
“I thought about taking the kids and running to the car, but we were stuck. We didn’t know whether he would follow us.”
The witness, who was there with her extended family – including three children aged two to 13 – added: “My six-year-old has special needs and is so traumatised he now has to sleep with the light on at night.
“He doesn’t understand what’s happened, and he and his brother are constantly asking me if the nasty man is going to come to our house to get us.
“We usually swim every Saturday, but now they say they don’t want to go anymore.”
Police today (November 19) released the image above and are now hunting for the man on charges of criminal damage.
Officers say the man is between 5ft 9in and 5ft 11in tall, of medium to stocky build, with short, light-coloured hair and spoke with an Irish accent.
He was dressed in a dark blue Adidas jacket with white stripes on the sleeves, a white or grey T-shirt, dark blue shorts and white trainers.
Elise Hyslop, communications and marketing director at Sportspace, said: “I can confirm there was an incident at Sportspace Hemel Hempstead on Saturday evening involving a man who was using threatening behaviour towards our customers and staff.
“Thankfully no one was physically hurt. We are working with the police in their investigations.”
The sport centre’s car park has been the centre of a long-running saga since new parking restrictions were introduced in 2013.
In a bid to prevent shoppers and commuters parking for free, a number plate recognition system was introduced by outside firm Creative Parking Solutions.
This meant only people using the facilities could park there – as long as they entered their car details using the touchscreen consoles in the foyer.
But the system experienced teething problems initially and hundreds of gym users had to be refunded after they were wrongly issued with fines.
It has been confirmed that the parking company has switched off the car park’s cameras for the time being while they wait for the damaged consoles to be fixed.