Eyewitness threw chairs, bottles at three men stabbing helpless woman in London terror attack

The violence turned a summery Saturday night in an area full of bars and restaurants into a scene of panic and chaos, with officers running through crowded streets screaming for people to flee and lifeboats drafted to help clear the area

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 10:19am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 10:19am

Witnesses have described the horror of watching a van plough into pedestrians in central London and several people being stabbed in an attack called terrorist incident.

Gerard Vowls, 47, had been watching the Champions League final at the Ship pub in Borough. He was at the start of the south side of London Bridge and said he saw a woman being stabbed by three men in their 30s.

“I want to know if this girl is still alive,” he said. “I’ve been walking around for an hour and a half crying my eyes out. I don’t know what to do.”

Vowls said he threw chairs, glasses and bottles at the attackers in a bid to stop the men. “They kept coming to try to stab me ... they were stabbing everyone. Evil, evil people.” It took at least 10 minutes for armed police to reach the scene, he added.

Witnesses spoke of the van first hitting pedestrians late Saturday night and of the occupants jumping out. There were reports of a man armed with a large blade.

One photograph showed a man on the ground after being shot by police, apparently with canisters strapped to his body. Gabrielle Sciotto, a documentary-maker who took the picture, said he saw people running away from Borough Market.

“It was dark, but I could see three men,” he said.

“They were about 20 metres away. It was quite confusing – it took me a few seconds to work out what was going on. There was one policeman there, inside Borough Market,” he said.

“He was trying to scare them away. They ran towards me because the police officer was trying to chase them.”

The three men ran out of Borough Market and turned left into Stoney Street towards the Wheatsheaf pub.

“Suddenly lots and lots police came from the other direction.” Armed police started yelling at the men, Sciotto said.

Watch: multiple casualties reported in London incident

“There was a lot of shouting. ‘Stop, stop, get on the floor’, stuff like that. Then the police shot them.”

Police responded rapidly with dozens of emergency vehicles and authorities led shellshocked members of the public away from the scene with their hands on their heads.

The attack came more than a week after a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a concert in the northern city of Manchester and days ahead of the June 8 election, where security is a major theme.

It also recalled an attack on Westminster Bridge when 52-year-old British Muslim convert Khalid Mahmood rammed his car into pedestrians before crashing into the barriers surrounding parliament and then stabbing a police officer to death.

Police said the first reports of a “vehicle in collision with pedestrians on London Bridge” came at 10:08pm local time (2108) and were quickly followed by “reports of stabbings in Borough Market,” at the south end of the bridge.

“Armed officers responded and shots have been fired,” police said.

Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that the “terrible incident in London” was being treated as “a potential act of terrorism.”

She will hold an emergency ministerial meeting later on Sunday and Facebook has activated its safety check function for people in London to let their loved ones know they are safe.

US President Donald Trump offered his help, tweeting “WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned the attacks as “barbaric.”

Other witnesses on London Bridge reported seeing a van mounting the pavement and hitting pedestrians and a man with a knife running.

“There was a van that crashed into the fences on London Bridge. And then there was a man with a knife, he was running. He came down the stairs and went to the bar,” Dee, 26, who was visibly in shock and declined to give her last name, told AFP.

Gerard Kavanar, 46, said he had seen a chef with “blood on his shoulder” in the area.

The London Ambulance Service said “multiple resources” were being sent to the scene. AFP reporters saw two police helicopters over the area and several roads were shut down.

The police were urging the public to run to a place of safety, or hide if they cannot.

Will Heaven, managing editor of The Spectator magazine, said on Twitter he saw “two casualties - one on pavement, one edge of road” and reported seeing armed police on the bridge.

BBC reporter Holly Jones, who was there at the time of the incident, said she saw a van driven by a man travelling “at about 80 kilometres an hour”.

She said about five people were being treated for injuries after the vehicle mounted the pavement and hit them.

“There’s several police boats with torchlights searching the Thames at the moment,” she told BBC radio.

She added that she saw a man, who had his shirt off and was in handcuffs, being arrested by police.

Another witness, who gave his name as Alessandro, told BBC radio that he saw a van strike several people on London Bridge.

“I saw this van going left and right, left and right, trying to catch as many people as he could. And people just tried to get out of the way of the van.

“Then I tried to help people, wounded people.”

Of the casualties, he said: “Three of them, yes (were conscious), and one guy was not talking at all, was just, like, down.”

“There were five or six people that we tried to help, they were young people.”

Husband and wife Ben and Natalie told BBC Radio 5 Live they were outside Borough Market when they witnessed the incident there.

Ben said: “We saw people running away and then I saw a man in red with a large blade, at a guess 10 inches long, stabbing a man, about three times.

“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.”

Ben said the man then walked towards the Southwark Tavern. He said they saw a metal chair being thrown towards the man.

“Then we heard three gunshots, definitely gunshots, and we ran.”

The Guardian, Agence France-Presse