Police last night urged the public to help them identify a mystery woman who killed herself in a Shipley supermarket.
The woman, who was aged between 20 and 40 and of Asian appearance, stabbed herself in the neck and collapsed in a pool of blood in an aisle in front of shocked staff and shoppers at Asda’s store in Manor Lane yesterday morning.
Police mounted a public appeal for help after an examination of the woman’s personal effects failed to provide any clues as to her identity.
Detective Inspector Ryan Bragg, of Bradford CID, said the woman had shoulder-length dark hair which was tied in a ponytail and she was wearing a dark blue top and trousers with large silver buttons to the front and a lighter blue or purple scarf.
“We have tried various means to identify this woman but as yet have not been able to do so,” said Det Insp Bragg, who is leading the investigation.
“I would urge anyone who believes they may know the identity of this woman or who has concerns for a family member or friend who fits this description to make contact immediately.
“Anyone with concerns or information should call Bradford CID on 101.”
The tragedy occurred at the top of the hardware aisle shortly after 8.30am.
One shopper said she was told that the woman had taken a knife from a rack in the hardware department, torn it out of the packaging and then stabbed herself.
“One of the shop’s first aiders was trying to give CPR,” said the witness, who asked not to be named.
“One of the young men who works there actually saw the woman stabbing herself in the throat. He’s in terrible shock.”
A Bradford mental health expert warned last night that staff who witnessed the woman’s death could struggle to return to work – or even enter any supermarket.
They will need expert counselling to cope with trauma caused by what they saw, said Christine Clavering, who heads the charity MIND in the city.
She described the manner of the woman’s death as “the most extreme and unusual suicide” she had heard of in 30 years as a social worker and mental health counsellor.
Miss Clavering, Bradford MIND’s wellbeing services manager, said: “It must have been a horrific thing to witness and those who did may suffer flashbacks and nightmares which could last for weeks, months or even years.” She described the type of trauma suffered by ordinary people who suddenly encounter unexpected, terrifying images such as those seen by Asda staff.
She said: “Initially people go into shock and often become instantly numb – which is the brain shutting us off from things we can’t cope with. That’s what happens when people faint at the sight of something. It’s a kind of defence. Sometimes people appear to stay calm, because of adrenaline and it can be a few hours before that wears off and trauma sets in.
“They will suffer flashbacks, nightmares and panic which could be associated with the Asda where it happened.
“Even going into any supermarket could be a trigger, or the smell of bread from bakery or even the sight of a packet of cereal – anything which they associate with what they saw.”
Asda confirmed it was bringing in professional trauma counsellors to help staff affected by the incident.
A spokesman said: “Although very few colleagues actually witnessed the incident we know how upsetting this event could be for them so we are providing trained counsellors to support colleagues.”
Shipley MP Philip Davies sent his sympathy to relatives of the woman but dismissed any calls for restricting the open sale of knives in the wake of the tragedy.
He said: “It would be a mistake to have a knee-jerk reaction to the sale of knives as obviously millions of people shop every week without any incident.
“The problem is somebody could open a bottle of bleach and drink it if they so wished. If we were to go down the line of trying to legislate for such awful situations, there would be no end to it.
“This is just a terrible, terrible event.”
Councillor Kevin Warnes (Green, Shipley) agreed. He said: “Sadly it is impossible to prevent such things from happening. One cannot stop people from doing things like this – it is just such a desperate act. It’s very, very sad and I feel for her family and also the staff at Asda.”