Police have arrested a 20-year-old man who handed himself into after ‘pepper spray’ was let off in a Pizza Hut, Tesco and McDonald’s last night leaving customers and staff ‘gasping for air,’ and 15 people needing medical treatment.
Hazmat crews had to be called into all three premises in Upper Gornal, Dudley, at around 7pm last night.
One person was rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties, while 14 more were treated by paramedics at the scene.
This afternoon West Midlands Police announced a 20-year-old man had handed himself into Brierley Hill Police Station in connection with the incident.
Fire crews responding to the chemical incident outside a branch of Pizza Hut in Upper Gornal, West Midlands. The attack left 15 people fighting for breath, with one taken to hospital. A 20-year-old man is now being questioned in connection with the incident
In a statement, the force said: ‘A man has handed himself into police at Brierley Hill police station today after a noxious substance was sprayed in three business premises in Upper Gornal, Dudley last night.
‘Following fast-track CCTV enquiries, detectives made several attempts to locate a suspect and the 20-year-old is currently in custody for questioning.’
A worker from the takeaway Pizza Hut outlet described how he felt sick and unable to breathe after the attack.
The man, who asked not to be named, said: ‘There were three of us working in here with one customer waiting when this man walked in. He just started spraying this substance out of a small plastic bottle.
‘It didn’t smell or produce a cloud, but after a minute we started reacting to it by coughing and he just walked off. I think he was waiting to see a reaction.
‘I felt like I could not breathe. I came outside and thought I was going to be sick.’
It is believed the attacker first sprayed a nearby McDonald’s restaurant before hitting the Pizza Hut and then a nearby Tesco Express.
A passer-by, who witnessed the scene shortly after 7pm on Tuesday night, said: ‘There were lots of police cars and a couple of ambulances. It looked like a very big deal, as if the Novichok poisonings had come to the Black Country.
‘There were 14 people affected and they all got taken into the BetFred for treatment. I have no idea what it was all about.’
One of those affected was bad enough to require hospital treatment.
The Pizza Hut worker added: ‘We had to close the store and we are not opening up again until 4pm after having a deep clean to the premises.’
Fire crews and police outside the West Midlands shopping parade following the 7pm attack on unsuspecting shoppers and diners
999 crews at the scene of the chemical attack last night. Police believe the businesses were attacked with pepper spray
Local Glen Simms wrote online: ‘Apparently acid attacks in Tesco, Pizza Hut and the betting shop in Upper Gornal.
‘Police, fire and ambulances there and some in hazmat suits. It looks like at least one person in the hospital.
‘It’s so frightening and pretty much on the doorstep too. You can’t take your safety walking around a supermarket for granted anymore.’
Police are currently exploring leads on who the attacker might be although they are unsure the motive for targeting the three venues.
A spokesman said: ‘We are investigating after an unknown substance was sprayed in three business premises in Upper Gornal just after 7pm last night.
‘Paramedics treated 14 people at the scene with breathing difficulties and one other was taken to hospital. Fortunately none have suffered any lasting effects.
‘We are fast-tracking CCTV enquiries and speaking to witnesses. Forensics experts have examined each premises to establish the nature of the substance.’
Forensic experts are understood to be analysing the substance today to try and find out what was in it.
A number of chemicals can create the problem of causing people to struggle to breathe.
West Midlands Ambulance Service were called to reports of an ‘unknown chemical substance’.
A spokesman said: ‘We were called to reports of an unknown chemical being sprayed at Pizza Hut in Upper Gornal at 7.23pm last night, one ambulance, two paramedic officers and our Hazardous Area Response Team attended the scene.
‘On arrival at the scene it became evident that the chemical had been also sprayed at two other locations, Tesco and McDonalds.
‘In total, 15 patients self-presented to our members of staff, 14 of whom were discharged at the scene.
‘One patient, a man, was treated for symptoms at the scene before being taken to Russell’s Hall Hospital for further assessment.’