A practical joke-loving manager of an HSBC bank in Penzance, Cornwall was kidnapped by masked men on his 40th birthday - only to discover that it was all a prank set up by his friend as revenge for an earlier trick that the bank manager played on him. Though in a country with some of the world's strictest regulations on firearms, it didn't go down too well with the cops..

Gun-wielding kidnappers seize bank manager - as a prank on his 40th birthday

7th February 2008
Daily Mail

Kidnappers brandishing guns and wearing masks seized an HSBC bank manager at gunpoint - as a prank on his 40th birthday.

Tony Sharp thought he was the target of a Securitas-style raid as he had a pillow case pulled over his head and was bundled into a car.

When he heard cameras clicking he feared pictures would be sent to his family and employer as ransom demands were made.

But the terrifying episode was a shocking stunt set up by a friend in revenge for an earlier trick.

The pranksters claim they gave the police advance notice but officers said they had no record of the incident - and warned against the use of fake guns on members of the public or the mounting of such stunts.

Moment of fear: A masked figure apparently holds the hooded bank manager at gunpoint at Penzance train station

Staff at the HSBC bank in Penzance, Cornwall, cooperated in the plan for the mock kidnapping as Mr Sharp travelled to work.

Colleague Paul Jackson gave him a lift from his home at nearby Goldsithney and stopped at a petrol station on the way.

Mr Sharp was distracted by a long text message and was ambushed, hooded with a pillowcase and then driven off.

After a short drive he was ordered out and, hearing cameras clicking, he feared pictures were being taken to send to his family and his bank.

But when his hood was removed he saw his friend Les Allen and a dozen work colleagues laughing.

Mr Allen had dreamed up the "kidnap" in revenge after Mr Sharp made a 10ft by 8ft poster of him emerging from the shower and hung it from a road bridge near his Long Rock home.

He persuaded bank colleagues and staff at the petrol station into helping out with the stunt and informed police in case the mock kidnapping was reported by passers-by.

Mr Sharp said: "They timed it to perfection. As Paul went to pay for the fuel a friend sent me a long joke on my mobile which distracted me.

Only joking: Masks are removed to reveal Les Allen, with fake gun, and a relieved Tony Sharp

"Then these two figures in boiler suits and balaclavas suddenly appeared. They were carrying guns and even wearing those gloves like you see on Crimewatch.

"I tried to get out but they bundled me inside. I thought it was a genuine hijack and a hostage situation so I threw my mobile out the window hoping someone would find it.

"I heard the guy who found it handing it back to the robbers. It was then I thought I was going to die. I thought that was it.

"My thoughts turned to my family. I kept on talking about my three boys.

"When we stopped they ordered me out of my car and told me to stay still for two minutes.

"I heard cameras clicking and I thought they were taking pictures to send to the bank and my family.

"Then they suddenly pulled off the pillow case and said 'Happy Birthday, Sharpy'.

"I later found out the staff at the filling station were in on the joke."

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: "We have no record of this incident but in general we would discourage this sort of thing.

"It is not a good idea to go around in public with replica or toy guns and balaclavas.

"If a passer-by had seen this and reported it we would have had to dispatch an armed response vehicle.

"There could have been danger to those involved, particularly those with the imitation weapons, and police time and resources could have been wasted."