thomas dunn
Thomas Dunn was surrounded by armed police after changing into a burka while in Debenhams, ExeterThomas Dunn

A gas engineer who runs a one-man "ban the burqa" campaign was surrounded by armed police on Sunday (30 July) after being spotted wearing a niqab in a Devon branch of Debenhams.

Thomas Dunn sparked panic when he changed into the head-to-toe Islamic clothing in the Exeter store's toilets and began browsing the aisles with a rucksack on his back.

He told IBTimes UK the stunt was intended as a protest against Debenhams because it had announced it was going to start selling burqas – clothing he said is a security risk and socially intimidating.

Security at Debenhams called police fearing that the 57-year-old – who stopped halfway through his stunt to have a cup of tea – could be a terrorist.

Armed officers rushed to the scene and confronted Dunn shortly after he left the store.

"I heard them shout 'stop!' and they had their hands on their sidearms," Dunn told IBTimes UK.

"They said they were going to arrest me under the terrorism act."

After Dunn explained he was campaigning against people being allowed to cover their faces in public, armed officers searched him and let him go without charge.

This is not the first time Dunn, from Exeter, has worn a niqab in public to get his point across.

He said he carried out the stunt in his local John Lewis a week before having called the police to check he wasn't doing anything illegal.

He said despite the police being called this time, he was "definitely going to do it again".

"I have nothing against Muslim people and I'm not racist in any way, but I just think people should not be able to cover their faces," he said.

"It causes distress because you can't see people's faces ... you really can see that the way people look at you changes [when you wear a niqab]. You see that initial fear in their eyes."

Saying the head-to-toe Islamic dress also makes CCTV "useless", he added that he wasn't out to offend anyone.

"I've got nothing against people wearing headscarves – I actually think they're quite attractive," he said.

Devon police confirmed a man was stopped in Queen Street, Exeter at 12.30pm on Sunday under the terrorism act but was released without charge.