Stand-off at cliff-top lasted for 17 hours

Near Holywell emergency services attend an incident at cliff tops. April 5th 2011 E14034M
Near Holywell emergency services attend an incident at cliff tops. April 5th 2011 E14034M

POLICE officers and chaplains were involved in a 17-hour stand-off with a suicidal man at Beachy Head this week.

They were at the notorious spot trying to talk the man out of ending his life from Tuesday evening to Wednesday lunchtime.

The man then inexplicably disappeared and the drama moved to Southfields Road when he was spotted on the roof of the Royal Mail sorting office.

He was eventually arrested and questioned but has been released on bail pending further enquiries.

The drama began at cliffs at the Sugar Loaf at Holywell shortly before 7.30pm on Tuesday after reports that a man was in a distressed state.

Members of the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Service and specially trained police negotiators rushed to the scene and made contact with the man, who is 37 and not from the Sussex area.

The man had hidden himself in a bush by the cliff edge.

A Sussex Police spokesperson said due to the man’s distressed state, great care was taken to try to ensure his safety and contact with him was maintained by police overnight, during which period he was left to have periods of reflection and sleep if he wished.

Officers spoke to and checked on him several times during the morning.

But despite the surveillance, at lunchtime on Wednesday, the man slipped away through undergrowth during one of the periods in which police were standing back.

A townwide search was mounted involving the Sussex Police helicopter and the man was spotted by a PCSO in Terminus Road shortly before 2pm.

The man ran off and climbed onto the roof area above staff toilets in the adjacent Royal Mail building where police immediately contained him. He was arrested a few minutes later.

The police spokesman said, “Our priority throughout was to try to ensure the safety of the man as well as any other members of the public.

“It was important to keep the man as calm as possible and this meant that officers could not approach him as closely as they might otherwise have done.

“During one of the periods when they were standing back he managed to slip away but thanks to a swift response and search of the area he was found in the town shortly afterwards.”

Eastbourne’s Coastguard team and lifeboat crew were also called out to help with the incident.

Coastguards stayed at the scene throughout the night and day in case the man fell off the cliff and Eastbourne RNLI’s inshore lifeboat was launched to search the sea after the man inexplicably disappeared.

An RNLI spokesperson said, “The volunteer crew of the inshore lifeboat boat conducted a detailed search of the shoreline and cliff ledges in the area. They were finally stood down when the police received reports that the individual had been spotted in Eastbourne town centre.”

The man is due to return to the police station in May.