‘I’m going to kill you’ The women who found themselves in the middle of a fatal knife attack while shopping at the Co-op
John Rees, Lisa Way and Ayette Bounouri were shopping at the local Co-op when a woman armed with a knife burst in intent on attacking anyone in her way, stabbing them to the head and neck with a kitchen knife.
Strangers until that day, Mr Rees, an 88-year-old pensioner and stalwart of the community, stepped in to try and stop Zara Radcliffe from attacking another shopper, Gaynor Saurin. But Radcliffe turned on him instead and unleashed an attack so brutal that it proved fatal. Ayette tried her hardest to protect Mr Rees from the blows that rained down on him as Lisa desperately tried to wrestle the knife out of Radcliffe’s hands at the shop in Penygraig, Rhondda.
Later appearing at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court in October, 29-year-old Radcliffe from Wyndham Street, Penygraig, was given an indefinite hospital order after pleading guilty to manslaughter and three counts of attempted murder on the basis of diminished responsibility. She suffered from schizophrenia.
Nearly a year on, John, Lisa and Ayette have been recognised for their incredible bravery on that day. But despite their selfless actions, neither Lisa or Ayette consider themselves brave. Accepting the bravery award at the 2021 St David Awards has been difficult, made possible only by coming to terms with what they witnessed in their own ways.
For 54-year-old Lisa looking back, that fateful day was made even more “surreal” by the fact she was doing an “everyday thing” and had just popped into the Co-op to pick up a card for her son-in-law.
“I suppose my saving grace is that I didn’t actually see her kill John and it wasn’t shown in court because it was so bad,” said the nurse.
“It’s a bit weird looking back because I don’t see it as something that plays out, I see it as more snapshots of different bits that happened. Seeing it played on the CCTV, there were a lot of things on it that I didn’t remember.”
The footage showed how Radcliffe launched a frenzied attack on multiple people.
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Initially oblivious to what was happening, Lisa went over to see what the fuss was about and could hear shouts of “She’s got a knife, she’s got a knife”. Ayette was stood in front of Lisa and Mr Rees was in front of them both as Radcliffe pushed him to the ground. Despite being knocked to the floor Mr Rees continued kicking out at the attacker, which was said in court to have saved Ms Saurin’s life.
“Within a second she was on him, she was there,” said Lisa. “She was trying to stab John. Ayette was protecting him with a crate and, me being a nurse, I thought we’ll talk about this so I tried to calm her down and get her to think about what she was doing.
“I remember she just looked at me. I said ‘Come on we’ll talk about it’ and she just looked at me and said ‘I don’t want to talk about it’. It was at that point she came for me. I remember looking at her and her eyes, I will never forget, they were big, dark, full of evil, and she just said to me ‘I’m going to kill you’.”
The two women struggled and Lisa was stabbed in the neck before managing to run towards the back of the shop.
She said: “The adrenaline kept me going and I felt the blood coming down my neck. I went to the doors thinking ‘Are they going to open?’ because I didn’t know if they’d been locked by security.
“I remember thinking I’m not looking behind me because if she’s going to stab me, I’d rather not know about it.”
Lisa ran into the shop next door screaming for someone to phone the police. It was only through the CCTV footage played out in court that Ayette too was able to realise the full extent of what she did that day in May, something which her brain had hidden from her own memory.
“I had no idea,” said the 47-year-old, who moved to the UK from France in 1997.
“When she (Radcliffe) came in, John was at the till and I looked at him and he could tell that I was going to do something. Unfortunately he did, and I screamed no. He did what he did and he fell right in front of me. She came to try and stab him and I grabbed a crate – one of these green delivery crates – and positioned myself above him and used the crate as a shield. So she stabbed the crate, forcefully, numerous times.”
While Lisa intervened and struggled with Radcliffe, Ayette grabbed Mr Rees by the top of his jacket, still with the crate on top of him, and dragged him to the nearest place of safety. But Radcliffe followed and started attacking again.
“We had a bit of a kerfuffle and she managed to get the crate,” continued Ayette. “At that point, I just knew. If I grabbed him and pulled as fast as I could I could get him to safety. I saw that on CCTV and it was so fast and I’ve got no idea how, but I got him to the back but unfortunately she came.”
Ayette pleaded with Radcliffe while Mr Rees lay on the floor beside her, saying: “You need to stop, you’re hurting people.”
“That was it, and sadly John died,” she added.
An inquest heard that Mr Rees died as a result of severe blunt force trauma to the face and multiple face fractures. He’d been bludgeoned with wine bottles and a fire extinguisher by Radcliffe as he lay prone on the floor in the Co-op store.
A “devoted” member of the All Saints Church, the proud family man rang the church bells every Thursday in honour of NHS staff. He’d left his wife Eunice waiting in the car while he popped in to the store.
Lisa didn’t know the couple personally but they used to pass her door every Thursday night on their way to church. Lisa had in fact decided to get a bunch of flowers to give Eunice when they passed next because of their dedication in all weather.
When Lisa walked into the Co-op that Tuesday, she saw some flowers but thought she’d get a nicer bunch later in the week. But just minutes later, her life changed forever. Taken to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff that afternoon with a stab wound to her neck, she didn’t realise it was Mr Rees who’d been killed until the next day.
At the time, Detective Chief Inspector Mark O’Shea of South Wales Police said that had it not been for the actions of Mr Rees, Lisa and Ayette, more people could have been seriously injured or killed. He also described their actions as among the bravest acts he had come across in decades of policing and nominated all three for the gallantry award.
“Whilst that can do nothing to change what tragically unfolded that day, I do hope that somehow, in time, the day can be remembered just as much for the extraordinary community spirit and heroism shown by ordinary people,” he added.
“The award is lovely and it is a privilege to have,” said Lisa. “But it’s a double-edged sword because ultimately John died and my intent that day was to save him and we didn’t.”
It wasn’t until her daughter, also a nurse, told her: “Mum, it’s not a life-saving award, it’s a bravery award,” that she was able to accept it.
“I find it very hard when people say I’m very brave. To me, there wasn’t a choice to be made that day,” she said carefully.
“I couldn’t have just walked away and said ‘Oh it’s nothing to do with me’. I had to go and try to see what I could do to help. After it happened, the guilt that I felt was awful, awful. You sit there and think why didn’t I do this, why didn’t I do that. She picked up a fire extinguisher, well why didn’t I think of that?”
Both women were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and regular counselling has proved valuable in helping them both process the tragic events. They also credit South Wales Police for being “incredible” and “amazing” throughout. The unyielding support they received from officers helped the two women not just in the immediate aftermath but for weeks and months later. So much so, they now view some as friends and even went round dropping off hampers to three different stations to show their gratitude afterwards.
“The police were just amazing,” said Lisa.
“We live with the pain every day but it gets easier,” said Ayette, who said her French culture played a big part in her actions.
“Bravery doesn’t resound well in France because of the French law of ‘non-assistance à personne en danger’ (failing to provide assistance to a person in danger). It is part of our duty to look after our citizens.”
As Radcliffe made her move towards Mr Rees, Ayette had already “screened” her immediate surroundings and clocked the crate.
“I knew she was coming,” she said. “You don’t think, you just do. For me, I’m not surprised about what I did. An elderly gentleman is being attacked, I’m younger, I’m going to do anything I can to protect him, regardless of me. I didn’t care about being stabbed, all I wanted was for him to be fine.”
One of the first steps for Ayette to overcome with her counsellor was accept the fact that her actions were not only brave but heroic too.
“Because of what I did, I didn’t feel it,” she said. “Because I felt that I didn’t do enough to save him or protect him.”
The pair have become firm friends since that day in May and while they have different outlooks on life, they are both certain about one thing: the award is “just the cherry on top” for everything that they’ve been through.
Ayette added: “To be two women who did what we did is quite admirable and is quite shocking for some people. I want people to know you’ve got the courage inside of you and you will find it one day.”
Her Christian faith is strong and has guided her throughout. She continued: “I’m in a good place now after accepting what I did. I’m proud of what I did, I’m proud of the award and I’m proud of how we’ve behaved throughout and I’m proud of the strong friendship we’ve struck up.”
Ayette carried on working for two weeks after the incident until she asked the police to take her back to the scene in the Co-op.
“I had to, it’s my local community, it’s my local shop, I couldn’t let this control my life,” she said. “I’ve never allowed anything in my life to control me. And I knew with PTSD the only way is to go back to where it all started. And I did, on May 19.”
That’s when she realised she needed to take some time out and focus on herself. She now goes to the shop frequently.
“I want the community to understand her family are victims in this too,” she added.
“They have suffered. They’ve lost a child but that child has done something which is inhuman. They’ve suffered because they’ve lost a member of the community, three people could have died as well. They are not at fault. They did nothing to deserve this. I feel sorry for the family. They hurt as much as we do.”
For Lisa, the incident has changed who she is. She said: “I don’t trust people. Now if I’m in a shop, I can tell you who’s behind me, who’s in front of me, who’s just walked down that aisle. I’m really aware of my surroundings.
“I judge people, and that’s not me. If someone walks past me, I always turn around to check they’ve kept going and not come back. I hope that it’ll go and I’ll one day be the same person as before it happened. But that’s what I’m going to have to deal with.”
For Mother’s Day, her son bought her an alarm and spray which she carries round in her pocket.
“It’s made me worry more about the possibility of losing my husband or the kids or the dog. I think: ‘What if something happens to them?’. I tend to think of the worst-case scenario now and hope for the best.”
For Ayette, she has come to terms with the events and while it hasn’t fundamentally changed her, she can say one thing for certain: “I do not see death in the same way. The way John was killed, I don’t cry now if people I know die because in my head I’m grateful they didn’t die in the way he died. And that’s my level now for every death unfortunately. I will feel sad but I will not react like I used to react.”
To be recognised both by her community and nationally across Wales despite being from France is a real honour for Ayette, who said: “It brings hope and is something for people to look up to.”
She added: “In a way the award is a legacy for John and his family and the community. What has happened has been recognised not just as sadness but as what he did, what we did. It’s something for the family to keep and to share with themselves, the community, and the church. Our lives didn’t end that day, and for John’s sake and his memory we live and we appreciate everything that he did that day.”
Lisa nodded in agreement and said: “Out of a really, really sad situation, this was something positive to come out of it. And our friendship. We’re friends for life.”