A Wearside grandad has stunned neighbours by jetting to Iraq to fight terrorists on the front line.
Jim Atherton, 53, is reported to have left the Washington house he shares with his wife earlier this year to take on Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East.
Mr Atherton is believed to have raised £18,000 by selling his possessions, including a number of vehicles, so that he could travel to Iraq.
Despite having no military experience, the soldier’s son is now on patrol as part of a militia group protecting villagers in the country.
Neighbours of Mr Atherton, who worked as a courier before leaving for Iraq, today told the Echo of their surprise at the news and said they hope he returns home safe to his family.
Rachael Kelly, 30, who lives just two doors from Mr Atherton in The Gardens, just a few hundred yards from Biddick Academy, said: “It’s such a shock. We’ve just come back from holiday so I haven’t seen his wife.
It’s a scary thing to do and we just hope he comes back safe.Rachael Kelly, neighbour of Jim Atherton
“His kids are grown up now but he has grandkids too. He was always working on cars but now those and the boat he kept on a trailer have been sold. It’s a scary thing to do and we just hope he comes back safe.”
Mrs Kelly, who has lived with husband John, 34, and their sons Matthew, 12, and Callum, seven, in the street for three years, said: “He’s taken a big risk and I hope he gets some of the terrorists.
“You just think about how safe he is though.”
Mark Williamson, who lives in The Gables, just yards from Mr Atherton’s family home, said: “I’d heard about him moving away but I think he only told a couple of people where he was going.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard, I was just shocked.
“He’s saying he has enough money to stay there for a year and then he’ll see. He obviously needed to get away but I hope he comes back OK.”
It has been reported that Mr Atherton has come under mortar and rocket fire as he patrols a Christian community in villages near IS positions. He said he flew to Turkey from Newcastle Airport and was turned back initially but returned a second time and was able to get a flight to Iraq.
He has since equipped himself with a machine gun, a pistol, a shotgun and a grenade, also buying his own ammunition to defend himself against the terrorists.