Witnesses tell of mayhem in London’s Borough Market

Witnesses described the men’s knives as at least a foot long and as the attack progressed through other restaurants and pubs, patrons tried to stall the attackers by throwing cutlery and chairs at them.

People are led to safety on Southwark Bridge away from London Bridge after an attack on June 4, 2017 in London, England. Carl Court / Getty Images

On Saturday, on an early summer evening in London, the pubs and restaurants of Borough Market were full of laughter and chatter. Though it was less than two weeks since the Manchester bombing, terror was not uppermost in most people’s minds – except for the three men who were about to unleash murder and mayhem.

Borough Market, on the south bank of the Thames, is hugely popular with Londoners and tourists alike, drawing discerning shoppers to its market stalls by day and revellers to its bars and restaurants by night. On Saturday it was particularly lively as football fans packed out the pubs to watch the Champions League final.

The first sign that something was wrong came when a flurry of smashed concrete descended upon the market from London Bridge above, where a van had just crashed into the railings.

Three attackers in the van had driven at high speed into pedestrians walking on the bridge. Footage from the dashboard camera of a taxi that stopped on the bridge soon after the incident showed at least a dozen pedestrians lying injured or immobile on the road, with police officers and emergency paramedics tending to them.

After crashing the van, the attackers ran into Borough Market and embarked on a stabbing spree. Eight minutes later, the assailants were dead, all three shot by police. But they had still had time to kill seven people and leave 48 more with injuries, many of them serious.

A couple identified only as Ben and Natalie told BBC Radio 5 they were just emerging from a Tube station when they saw one man stabbing another with a long knife.

“We saw people running away, and then I saw a man in red with a large blade, at a guess 10 inches [25cm] long, stabbing a man about three times,” Ben said. “It looked like the man had been trying to intervene, but there wasn’t much he could do. He was being stabbed quite coldly and he slumped to the ground.”

Several witnesses described the men’s knives as at least a foot [30cm] long. As the attack progressed through other restaurants and pubs, patrons tried to stall the attackers by throwing cutlery and chairs at them.

One of the first on the scene was an off-duty police officer. He was stabbed as he tackled one of the attackers and is now in critical condition. A British Transport Police officer with only two years’ service faced down the attackers armed only with his baton. He was seriously injured but is stable in hospital. Paul Crowther, chief constable of the force, said he showed “outstanding” bravery.

Many scared pedestrians ran into a cellar pub called the Sheaf. With nearly 100 people sheltering inside, the bouncers locked the doors. While some of those who had fled there spoke of a stabbing, others talked about a hit-and-run attack by a lorry.

One unidentified woman, described as “heroic” by a taxi driver who was on the scene, closed the doors to the Black and Blue restaurant and held them shut long enough for at least 20 others to escape through a rear exit.

Giovanni Sagristani, 38, was in the El Pastor restaurant when a man stormed in and attacked a woman. “He came in shouting and just stabbed her,” he told the BBC. Mr Sagristani and other diners chased the attacker out of the restaurant by throwing chairs and bottles at him, while Carlos Pinto, a critical care nurse in London, used ice and cloths to stop the victim bleeding. He and others managed to keep her conscious for two hours until paramedics were able to reach them.

Another witness, identified only as Gerard, said he heard a man shout “This is for Allah!” as he stabbed a woman. “He must have stabbed her at least 10 times, maybe 15,” he said. “She was crying, ‘Help me, please help me,’ but there was nothing I could do.”

A taxi driver told LBC he tried to run over one of the attackers who was stabbing a girl in the chest.

The situation grew even more frightening because the three attackers were wearing what looked like explosive vests, although these later turned out to be fake.

Police arrived on the scene as the stabbing went on, and tried to evacuate people from the dining establishments. In one video from the Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House restaurant, staff members are seen directing customers to leave and run down the street.

A fresh wave of confusion emerged when police officers began to shoot at the attackers.

“I was in the back of the pub,” said Owen Evans, who was in The Wheatsheaf pub. “A wave of about 30 people ran in and tried to get into the cellar or cupboard … We saw police lights and everyone got down under a table. People turned tables over.”

Even after the attack ended, the night of uncertainty persisted.

Police cordoned off nearby roads and shut down Tube stations, making it difficult for people trying to get home.

On Twitter, though, homes and businesses in the vicinity offered up beds or sofas for people who needed to spend the night, using the hashtag #SofaForLondon.

“Sikh Gurdwara for help if your [sic] stranded in London after today’s attacks and need any help,” an account with the handle @SikhYouthUK_ tweeted, along with a map of the temple’s location.

“Tea, salt and vinegar crisps and comfy cushions. All the essentials,” Anthony J Myers, tweeting from @ajmy, promised.

George Moss, who had lost his phone and was unable to reach home because of a public transport cordon, responded to a tweet from Holly Robinson and Mary Lynch offering up their home to anyone looking for a place to stay.

"[Without their assistance] I would have been in a pickle. I wouldn't have anywhere else to go. Having someone so close and so willing to help makes a massive difference," Mr Moss told The Guardian.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

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