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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 15:33 GMT
People who don't stand idly by
What makes someone into a have-a-go hero?
Most of us at some point in our lives will witness a volatile confrontation - but are certain people more likely to get involved than others? Sometimes it's the most unlikely people who put their necks on the line.

What is it that compels ordinary people to step in and put themselves in the line of fire?

According to psychologist, Dr Sandra Scott, it can be triggered by many things - from a past experience to simply having a sense of common decency.

"In actual fact in real life, heroes are just ordinary people just like you and me - you couldn't spot them walking down the street," she told the makers of BBC One's Have A Go Heroes.

"When they have a sense of this is the way things should be, when they see things that contravene it, they can do something strongly to act."

Who would you help?

Dr Scott says that a bad past experience can often be the trigger for someone to step in. For example, someone who witnessed domestic violence as a child, would be more likely to help a woman who was being threatened in public.

Dr Sandra Scott
Dr Sandra Scott says heroes can come in any form
The makers of the programme also carried out a social experiment to find out just what the public's response to a potentially dangerous situation would be.

One - aimed at challenging perceptions - involved an actress playing a woman in distress in the street.

Dressed smartly and appearing middle class, someone rushed to her aid in seconds.

However, when the situation was played out with a man holding a beer can lying on the floor in pain it was a different story.

It took six and a half minutes for someone to come to his aid.

According to Dr Scott, this is partly down to the fact that it was a man, but far more to do with the perception that the man had brought it upon himself and that he could be dangerous.

Grappling with gunmen

One woman who became a have-a-go heroine is Mavis Fazackerley, a retired accountant who gave an armed robber a little more than he bargained for.

I don't like people doing things which aren't permitted and that is why you have a go

Mavis Fazackerley

The 63-year-old was collecting her mother's pension from her local post office in Lancashire when a man wearing a balaclava burst in, brandishing a gun and demanding money.

Mavis, who initially thought it was a joke, grabbed the gun and grappled with the robber, who fled as she tried to remove his balaclava.

She said: "I thought it was a stripogram, but I realised from his expression that it wasn't. That's when I went to try and get the gun off him.

But what was the motivation for Mavis's selfless act of bravery? Simple.

"My main concern is that someone was doing something wrong and that aggravates me.

"I don't like people doing things which aren't permitted and that is why you have a go."

Since the incident, Mavis has received several commendations for bravery, and now works as a volunteer at Blackburn police station.

Railway child turned heroine

Actress Jenny Seagrove is a serial have-a-go heroine. The television and film star was punched in the face by a youth, while helping an off-duty policeman in London.

We've become a walk by society, an 'I'm not going to get involved' society - and it saddens me

Jenny Seagrove
She had come to the aid of the officer, who was attempting to stop a group of youths smashing a shop window.

Jenny was assaulted as she tried to shelter two young girls from the trouble. Her assailant ran off and was never caught.

She said: "I don't think any of us know instinctively what we're going to do.

"Something in you just snaps, you stop thinking like a rational person and you just head off into trouble.

Careful assessment

"I think we've become a walk by society, an 'oh look something's happening but I'm not going to get involved' society - and it saddens me."

But good deeds can come at a price. The police advice is that you should always think carefully about the situation, rather than jumping in instinctively.

Chief Constable Richard Childs said: "If you are the victim you should do what you can to escape, to get away.

"When it comes to property, the rule of thumb has to be that property is not worth fighting back for."

People should make "a very careful assessment" before stepping in to help, he said.

"If you think that you stand a reasonable chance of influencing it in your favour, and that you're not going to become a victim, then it is probably worth intervening."

Have a go Heroes was shown in the UK on BBC One on Wednesday, 30 January at 2100GMT and Thursday, January 31 at 0445GMT.

See also:

02 Jan 02 | England
Have-a-go man 'left to die'
26 Nov 01 | England
Have-a-go hero's sight threatened
19 Oct 01 | England
Pensioners disarmed gunman
16 Feb 99 | Brit Awards
Have-a-go hero saves the Brits
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