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EDITIONS
 Sunday, 5 January, 2003, 17:51 GMT
Siege hostage leaves unharmed
Armed officers in Hackney
About 50 armed officers are still at the scene
A man held hostage by a gunman in an east London flat for 11 days has left unharmed.

Armed police officers have surrounded the flat on Graham Road, in Hackney, since Boxing Day.

On Sunday afternoon the man was able to leave the building.

Metropolitan Police Commander Bob Quick said: "At approximately 2.55 this afternoon a man who we believe to have been held against his will for more than 10 days at the Hackney siege was able to leave the immediate confines of the flat.

'Tense' negotiations

"Some time after the hostage left the flat, what sounded like a firearm being discharged from inside the flat was heard.

"However, we believe that the suspect has not been harmed and has since attempted to establish contact with our negotiators."

He would not elaborate on how the hostage got out of the flat but a senior police source said: "don't believe that he was released, I think he seized an opportunity to leave."

Food being delivered
The gunman hauls up a food package by rope

Police said they were enduring "tense and difficult" negotiations with the gunman.

On Sunday evening, the area remained cordoned off and police marksmen still had their rifles trained on the flat.

MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Diane Abbott said: "I support the way the police handled the situation and I do not think they had an alternative - the only other option would have been to burst in there and riddle him full of bullets."

Residents return

Police confirmed that nearly all the 150 people who had been moved to safety were now home, with only three homes still unoccupied.

Most of the residents returned in small groups late on Sunday afternoon, escorted by police officers.

But 43 people remained confined to homes which were still in the line of fire - they are being given essential supplies by Hackney Council.

The siege matches London's longest siege which was in 1984 at the Libyan Embassy for 11 days.

This siege began when officers tried to remove a car from outside the flat for forensic tests.

Shots were fired after a man came to the window of the flat and argued with them.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Richard Lister in Hackney
"Shortly after his release a shot was fired"

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See also:

05 Jan 03 | England
04 Jan 03 | England
03 Jan 03 | England
30 Dec 02 | England
29 Dec 02 | England
27 Dec 02 | England
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