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True Crime: Held at gunpoint on my birthday! Ann Keenan was looking forward to a lovely family night out to celebrate her 50th birthday - she didn't expect armed robbers to crash the party...

Byline: WORDS: CLAIRE DUNWELL. PHOTOS: RICHARD BLAKE

Surprise!' A huge cheer went up in the room, and the singing started. `For she's a jolly good fellow, for she's a jolly good...'

I couldn't help smiling.

John had rounded up 150 of our very closest friends to celebrate my 50th birthday.

As I scanned the room, I saw all the familiar faces and tears welled in my eyes. Tears of happiness - but it was also delayed shock.

Just an hour before, I'd been held at gunpoint and watched helplessly as my beloved John was beaten as armed robbers ransacked our family home. What a surreal birthday.

It started on January 7 this year, when I was putting my mascara on ready to go out for a small dinner with family and friends for my 50th birthday. I was in the kitchen of our family home in Wakefield, W Yorks.

It was 6.50pm and John, 41, my husband of 18 years, was chatting to our daughter Lisa, 31.

Our son Martin, 27, was upstairs in the bath, his music blaring.

I felt so happy to have my family around me. We all work hard. Lisa runs her own shop, John has his own car parts business, and I'm a housewife. Time together is precious for all of us.

I didn't flinch when the front door opened. `Probably some of our friends,' I thought. Then John yelled: `No!' Suddenly, four men in dark clothes and balaclavas smashed a glass panel in our kitchen door.

John was trying to hold it shut, and that's when I saw it. A gun.

One of the men was using a gun to break down our door! Within seconds they were all in the kitchen.

By this point, Lisa was screaming hysterically. I tried to calm her, but I was terrified. What did these men want with my family?

One of them forced Lisa and me to sit on chairs, the others pushed John to the floor. Then one of them calmly walked upstairs.

`Oh no!' I thought. `What about Martin?' He probably had no idea what was happening. `Please God, don't let them harm him,' I thought.

`Where's your safe?' one of them shouted at John.

`We don't have one,' John kept on saying.

I was paralysed with fear. Any minute now, I thought, one of my family is going to die. Please let it be me...not John... or one of the kids...

I could see guns being pushed into the back of John's knees, and I could hear them saying they were going to kill John if he didn't tell them where the money was.

Then I heard a voice, my voice, begging for mercy.

`You can have my money,' I said.

`You, you're coming with me,' said one of the men, waving a gun in my terrified face.

He pulled me off the chair and pushed me up the stairs.

I was shaking as I reached the top step, fearing I'd find Martin beaten - or even worse...

One of the men had already ransacked one of the bedrooms, but hadn't checked in the bathroom.

Martin was safe. For now.

I could feel the man's eyes burning right into the back of my head as I rummaged through my drawers for the pounds 1,000 I keep hidden.

I'd been saving it for an emergency - and it doesn't get more desperate than a gun in your back.

He snatched the money from me.

`Now, where's all your jewellery?' I showed him my jewellery box.

He snatched everything I had, but I didn't care. They're only things. I'd have given him anything for my family to survive this horror unhurt.

He pushed me back down to the kitchen and there I saw John being beaten about the head with a gun.

`Please, no, leave him alone,' Lisa was crying.

I could see blood, and John was groaning in pain.

`You've got to go,' I screamed. `Our friends will be arriving any minute now - lots of them. What will you do then?'

One of them looked at me long and hard, then snapped the gold chain from around John's neck and tore the wedding ring from his finger.

Then they fled. Just as quickly as they'd come.

John ran after them, ignoring my pleas for him to stay safe with us.

The robbers got into a silver Renault Laguna and sped off, with John giving chase in his car.

At the end of our street, John rammed their car from the road, he was so angry they'd threatened his family it didn't even cross his mind to be scared.

The robbers fled on foot, and John, who'd got whiplash from the crash, couldn't catch them. Moments later he was back at the house.

I'd called 999 and the police arrived a few minutes later.

We all sat in the kitchen in a daze, while officers quizzed us about what had happened.

`Why us?' we kept asking. We're a normal family. Yes, we have a comfy house, but it's not a mansion.

The raid had lasted less than 15 minutes, but it had felt like a lifetime.

I didn't care about what we'd lost - what was pounds 1,000 compared to our lives? Then Martin piped up.

He'd saved pounds 30,000 to pay the tax bill for his business, a kids' clothing company. It had been in his bedroom and he'd been planning to put it in the bank the next day.

It had all gone. Every last penny. I felt so awful for him.

Birthday celebrations were the last thing on my mind at that point. Then I heard John whispering in the corner with one of the officers.

`You don't understand,' he whispered to him. `There are 150 people waiting...'

What! We were having dinner with a handful of friends, what was John going on about?

`There's something you should know,' said John, putting his arms around me.

`We're not going out for dinner tonight. I've spent the past two months planning a surprise party for you, and 150 of our friends are waiting in The Magnet pub, in Wakefield.

`There's one more thing,' he said. `Take a look out of the window.'

I peered out and my jaw dropped. A white stretch limo was pulling up next to the police cars. It did look odd. `Happy birthday, darling,' said John. It was like a dream.

I didn't feel like going out - let alone going to a huge party.

But the police had to search the whole house for clues, and I knew we needed to take our minds off what had happened. So we agreed to leave them in our house and give them our statements the very next morning.

As we cruised in the limo, sipping Champagne, I couldn't believe it.

All our friends cheered when we walked into the pub, and word of the raid soon got round so everyone was coming up and hugging me.

It sounds funny, but going to the party was definitely the right decision.

Seeing everyone helped me get over the shock, and it wasn't until the end of the night that I finally burst into tears. The reality had just sunk in. Lisa, John and I slept at the pub, and Martin stayed with our neighbour. None of us could face going home that night.

Next morning we went back home, after speaking to the police. It was awful. Everything was just as we'd left it - except you could see where the police had dusted for fingerprints.

Despite finding DNA in the getaway car, the police still don't know who robbed us.

John's put CCTV round the house, and the gates and doors are always locked - but I'm still terrified they'll come back.

Martin's had to pay off his tax bill in instalments. The insurance didn't cover him, and we're still having wrangles with them about our claim.

Mind you, we all survived - and that's the most important thing.

And I ended up having a very special birthday night. It's certainly one I'll never forget."

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TERRIFIED: Ann still fears a knock on her front door
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 17, 2004
Words:1362
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