His head was shoved between his legs, a handgun was jabbed into his ribs and another stuck against his temple – Ryan Pickford was convinced he was going to die.
The most recent victim of a blue-light gang, Pickford was held at gunpoint on Friday night for two hours by men claiming to be police officers – in full police uniform.
Pickford had just visited his wife and three-week-old son, who is in high care at the Morningside clinic, on Friday evening when the terrifying experience began that would see him lose his Porsche, his dignity and his trust in the police.
Driving past Leeuwkop Prison on Main Road in Bryanston just before 8pm, Pickford noticed a white Golf GTI following him. The vehicle’s blue lights began flashing, signalling him to pull over.
Two men dressed in police uniforms, wearing bullet-proof vests and wielding R5 rifles insisted on searching his car. During what the men called a “routine search”, another man wearing a police bib approached Pickford’s car from the side of the road.
Pickford, 35, then called his sister to tell her that the police were threatening to arrest him if he did not accompany them to the nearest roadblock for a breathalyser test.
When he agreed, but said he would drive his own car, Pickford was told he was going to be arrested. When he asked why, one of the “officers” handcuffed him and pushed him into the back seat of the Golf.
He watched helplessly as the man in the police bib climbed into his Porsche and drove off. Seated between two other men, who were not in police uniform but wielding handguns, his captors informed him that he was being hijacked. While the two men in the back seat pushed his head down with black-gloved hands, the two uniformed hijackers sat in the front. One started the car and began driving.
Pickford pleaded for his life, saying they could have his car. “I told them about my two kids and wife, and how I needed to be with them.”
At first, the men were reassuring, telling him he wouldn’t be hurt if he didn’t “f*** up”, and that their own children needed to survive as well. But when his sister began calling on his cellphone, the two handguns were pointed at his head and heart. He was told to tell his sister that he was with the police and that nothing was wrong.
After 30 minutes of driving, being interrogated about the cars he drove and his banking details, Pickford began to get anxious. The men were getting increasingly hostile, telling him he would be shoved into the car’s boot, dropped off in the centre of Alexandra, or killed, if he did not co-operate.
“I felt a strange calmness, and I just felt like this was going to be the end,” he said.
He asked why police officers would do this. Pickford remembers saying how he said they were meant to “serve and protect”, a statement that offended his hijackers.
“Who do you think we are? Your servants?” the driver asked.
At around 10pm, the men pulled over in the veld in Centurion, took his watch and cellphone, and told him to run deep into the veld and lie down. Pickford said he thought this would be the moment he would be killed, having seen his hijackers’ faces. But after lying own for several minutes, the men sped off.
Exhausted and trembling, Pickford made his way to a nearby warehouse, where he found security guards, who did their best to help him. It was after midnight by the time he had filed his case with the Midrand SAPS.
A traumatised Pickford is convinced it was police officers who committed the crime – not impersonators. Pickford said he recognised the face of one as a policeman at another roadblock.
“I swore to myself I wouldn’t just lie down and take this… If I can help to save another life (by reporting the case to police), then I will keep pushing this.
“You’re meant to trust them, like doctors or teachers. How will I ever stop at a roadblock again?”
Tracker investigators think a syndicate is at work in the northern suburbs targeting expensive cars. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an investigator said there had been eight high-end vehicle hijackings in the past three weeks.
Police spokesman Katlego Mogale was not available for comment.
l If you have been the victim of a blue-light gang – police impersonators or otherwise – please contact The Star.