One of Britain’s busiest shopping streets was closed today as a man wearing gas canisters stormed into an office and threatened to blow himself up, it was reported.
Tottenham Court Road in central London was closed after police received emergency calls at midday.
Scotland Yard sent a hostage negotiator to the scene amid reports the man had held people hostage inside the building several floors up.
Pictures emerged of computer and office equipment being thrown through one of the office windows.
A police spokesman said it was “too early to say if the suspect was armed or indeed had taken any hostages” but businesses and nearby buildings were evacuated.
Joaqam Ramus, who works at nearby Cafe Fresco, said before being evacuated: “There was talk of a bomb and somebody having a hostage in a building.
“All Tottenham Court Road is closed and so are we – the police told us to shut.
“We don’t know what it is but it seems someone has a hostage.”
Abby Baafi, 27, the head of training and operations at Advantage, a company which offers HGV courses, said the man targeted her offices and was currently holding four men hostage.
In a YouTube video by Stephen Hull, executive editor of news website Huffington Post UK, Ms Baafi said the man entered her office and called himself Michael Green.
“I recognised him because he was one of our previous customers but he is not quite stable – mentally stable,” she said.
“He turned up, strapped up with gasoline cylinders, and threatened to blow up the office.
“He said he doesn’t care about his life.
“He doesn’t care about anything, he is going to blow up everybody.
“He was specifically looking for me but I said ’My name’s not Abby’ and he let me go.”
Ms Baafi said the man failed the HGV training course and wanted his money back.
Sarah O’Meara, who also works for the Huffington Post, said they evacuated their offices in nearby Capper Street after being alerted by a woman who ran into the building.
“A woman ran in off the street saying ’There is a guy with a bomb and he is threatening to blow himself up’ and that we needed to evacuate,” she said.
“Everyone got out.
“The police have been moving people back street by street.”
John Lillis, a consultant at furniture shop Designer Sofas, witnessed the incident unfold from the back of his showroom.
Speaking at the cordon in Store Street, he said: “We heard the sirens and looked out of the window.
“The buses had been stopped and there was an ambulance crew there, as well as police cars. The road was then cordoned off.
“The police asked us to move to the back of the showroom.
“I looked across the road to an office block opposite our showroom, and I saw computer screens and computers come out of the window, and then a filing cabinet.
“About half an hour after it all started, we were asked to move behind the cordon on Goodge Street, and it has moved back further since then.”
Asked if he could see who was throwing the items out on to the street, he said: “All I saw was someone in a shirt, I couldn’t see him or her.”
He said there were two customers in the store at the time, and he ushered them out first, before locking up and following directions from police.
A police spokesman said: “Officers are in attendance at an incident in Tottenham Court Road where a man, believed to be aged 49, is causing a disturbance.
“Police were called at 11.59 on Friday 27 April to an office building on Tottenham Court Road.
“Items, including electrical equipment, have been thrown out of a fifth-floor window.
“A 300m cordon has been put in place and a negotiator is on scene.”
Police are advising people to keep clear of the area due to congestion.
No injuries have been reported.
It is unclear if there are other people in the building, the force said.
Rajesh Kalia, of Goodge Law solicitors, who works two floors below where the incident was unfolding in Shropshire House, relived the drama.
The lawyer said: “We were in the office and suddenly we were told by the police that there was some problem in the building and asked to evacuate immediately.
“The police were very clear about the instructions. There was no panic or anything but they were very firm and got everybody out of the building very, very quickly.
“I overheard someone say that there was a man in there with some wires coming out of his jacket.
“Now, I don’t know how much of that is true but that’s the impression they gave us.
“They mentioned something about a flame-thrower, the jacket and wires coming out of it, and that’s about it.
“We’re two floors below where this was happening.
“We heard some shouting in the stairwell and then were asked to leave by the police so I think the police got there pretty quick.”
Images on the social networking site Twitter showed various items being thrown from the building, including computer monitors and piles of paper.
Huffington Post worker Ms O’Meara said the atmosphere was “tragi-comic” until the police arrived and it turned serious.
“He was throwing stuff out of the windows, it looked like someone with a grievance,” she added.
“But then the police arrived and started telling everyone ’This is serious, this is for your own safety. He has got gas’.”
A Transport for London spokeswoman said: “TfL is advising motorists to avoid driving into the West End this afternoon if possible, due to the impact of the police incident and cordon in Tottenham Court Road area.
“On the Tube, only Goodge Street station on the Northern line is closed as the station entrance is within the police cordon.
“Trains are not stopping at the station but are serving all other stations, with a good service on the line.”