Former Melton police chief cheated death in Tunisia massacre

People, some displaying a Tunisian flag, stand in silence next to flowers during a gathering at the scene of the attack in Sousse, Tunisia, Sunday, June 28, 2015. The Friday attack on tourists at a beach is expected to be a huge blow to Tunisia's tourism sector, which made up nearly 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product in 2014. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar) EMN-150629-180457001
People, some displaying a Tunisian flag, stand in silence next to flowers during a gathering at the scene of the attack in Sousse, Tunisia, Sunday, June 28, 2015. The Friday attack on tourists at a beach is expected to be a huge blow to Tunisia's tourism sector, which made up nearly 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product in 2014. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar) EMN-150629-180457001
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A former chief of Melton police said he was lucky to be alive after fleeing from the terrorist who shot dead dozens of fellow holidaymakers in the atrocity in Tunisia.

Steve Johnson, head of Melton and Rutland Police between 1988 and 1992, made his escape with wife Val and two friends along the beach at Sousse on Friday.

Steve Johnson, former chief of Melton and Rutland Police, who survived the terrorist massacre of holidaymakers in Tunisia EMN-150630-104711001

Steve Johnson, former chief of Melton and Rutland Police, who survived the terrorist massacre of holidaymakers in Tunisia EMN-150630-104711001

The 65-year-old had been reading a book when he recognised the distinctive sounds of gunfire from his firearms training and as bodies fell around him he fled with other sunbathers in a scene of desperate panic.

“We were so lucky,” he told the Melton Times after returning to his Leicestershire home in the early hours of Saturday. “We were reading and suddenly we heard these bursts of gunfire in quick succession. We heard screaming and people just started running.

“Literally, if we had turned right instead of left we would be dead now.

“I’m pretty sure the woman on the sunbed next to me was killed - she didn’t have a chance.”

Mr Johnson and his wife were staying at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel with friends Mick Perry, a former chief superintendent of Leicestershire Police, and his wife Angela.

He recalled: “As we were escaping the shots I saw sand puff up behind Mick so the gunfire was pretty close to us.

“We managed to get into a drainage ditch which took us back to the spa at the hotel and the staff let us in there.

“I put Val in a locker in the spa room and went off to find Mick and Angie.

“My 30 years in the police force helped me deal with the situation calmly and I managed to organise people in the spa and got everyone away from the windows.”

They later saw bodies of people who had been killed in an incident which shocked the world.

Mr Johnson, who has three daughters, said: “My wife was quite chilled about it because she was a casualty sister at Leicester Royal Infirmary and she is used to seeing blood and bodies.

“Angela is a former police officer but she was not quite so chilled because my wife had fallen as we ran away from the gunman and Angela thought she had been shot.”

Mr Johnson, who owns the property which houses the Milk Skateshop in Leicester Street in Melton, was interviewed by TV news teams and national newspaper journalists after revealing he had seen a second gunman at the scene when it was thought originally that Seifeddine Rezgui was acting alone on behalf of the Islamic State terrorist group.

“I saw this guy wearing red shorts with a gun so if he wasn’t involved why would he be waving this gun around during an incident like this where police were pouring into the area?” said Mr Johnson, a former top class rugby player who made more than 200 appearances for Leicester Tigers RFC.

“I told a police officer about it later and he said they had shot the man with the red shorts.”

During his time at Melton, Mr and Mrs Johnson raised thousands of pounds to help orphans in Romania and one of them recognised him after seeing his online media interviews following the Tunisia incident.

He added: “My daughter told me that this girl who had been at the orphanage had seen us on TV and had put a message up on Facebook to say how glad she was that we were both OK. That was 25 years ago that we did that so it is pretty amazing.”

Mr Johnson added: “This incident was so desperately sad. There were some flowers left on the beach afterwards with a note which simply said ‘Why?’ and that sums it all up.”