‘A bag, a flash and a bang’: how ter­ror erupted on the packed rush-hour train

Com­muters had no idea what they were flee­ing in pan­icked rush for the doors

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Caro­line Davies, Kevin Rawl­in­son, Owen Bow­cott and Robert Booth

On a packed un­der­ground train at the height of rush hour, no one seemed to have no­ticed the white bucket in­side a car­rier bag placed against a door.

At 8.20am, as the District line train from Wim­ble­don pulled into Par­sons Green sta­tion, Ryan Bar­nett, 25, was sit­ting fur­ther down the train. “All of a sud­den, hun­dreds of peo­ple were run­ning past me scream­ing ‘stam­pede’, ‘at­tack’, ‘ter­ror­ist’, ‘ex­plo­sion’, ‘get off the train’, ‘ev­ery­one run’,” he said. Bar­nett, who works in pol­i­tics, ran with them.

Richard Aylmer-Hall, 53, a me­dia tech­nol­ogy con­sul­tant, ran too. He had been read­ing his news­pa­per and lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast on his way to Padding­ton on the train, which has ca­pac­ity for 865 pas­sen­gers, and was “ab­so­lutely packed” with com­muters and school­child­ren. In the febrile panic that en­sued, he heard a woman shout­ing about “a bag, a flash and a bang”.

With the train for­tu­nately at a sta­tion, its doors were open. Hun­dreds joined a stam­pede to a stair­case lead­ing to the sta­tion exit. “I saw cry­ing women, there was lots of shout­ing and scream­ing. Some peo­ple got pushed over and tram­pled on,” said Aylmer-Hall.

Bar­nett made it to the stair­case, but stew­ards were shout­ing “stop, stop, stop”, he said, as it be­came dan­ger­ously over­crowded. “Peo­ple were fall­ing over, peo­ple were faint­ing, peo­ple were cry­ing. There were lit­tle kids cling­ing on to the back of me,” Bar­nett said.

Olaniyi Shokunbi, 24, a fit­ness in­struc­tor, saw peo­ple ly­ing on the floor cov­ered in blood. “There was a lit­tle boy. I felt re­ally sorry for him. He couldn’t have been more than 11. He had scratches on his head. He was look­ing for his lit­tle brother,” he said. “A woman on the floor couldn’t breathe. Peo­ple all around were scream­ing and cry­ing.”

Those near­est to the white builder’stype bucket had heard a bang, then wit­nessed a “fire­ball” and a “wall of flame” shoot through the car­riage.

South African Gil­lian Wix­ley, 36, who lives in Put­ney and was eight seats away from the ex­plo­sion, said: “It wasn’t a big ex­plo­sion, more of a bang, and then there was fire.” As she rushed off the train she saw “flames go­ing up the wall”.

Rory Rigney, 37, from Dublin, was also feet away from the de­vice, and saw “a fire­ball com­ing to­wards me”. “It smelled like a fire ex­tin­guisher and there was this foam on the floor,” he said. One woman, who “looked like she had been burnt”, was be­ing helped by peo­ple pour­ing water on her face.

Videos and pho­to­graphs of what Scot­land Yard would later de­ter­mine to be an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice were ap­pear­ing on Twit­ter. It was black­ened, twisted and still in flames.

Chris Wild­ish, who was on the train, said: “It was a white bucket, a builder’s bucket, in a white Aldi bag or Lidl bag. Flames were still com­ing out of it when I saw it and [it] had a lot of wires hang­ing out of it.”

Out­side, armed of­fi­cers were at the scene within min­utes. Six fire en­gines, a fire res­cue unit and about 50 fire­fight­ers were im­me­di­ately dis­patched, as well as a fleet of am­bu­lances. Pas­sen­gers stum­bled out, shak­ing, limp­ing; some cov­ered in blood, many tear­ful. They spoke of a “wall of flames”, of hear­ing a “bang” or a “whoosh­ing” noise.

The BBC’s So­phie Ra­worth, one of the first jour­nal­ists on the scene, saw a woman on a stretcher, her legs wrapped, and be­ing given oxy­gen and pain re­lief. “She seemed to have burns all over her body from top to toe,” said Ra­worth.

Robyn Frost, about to en­ter the sta­tion to travel into cen­tral Lon­don, saw “blood on the floor and peo­ple run­ning down the stairs scream­ing ‘get out’”. Aaron But­ter­field, a pro­duc­tion man­ager, also ar­riv­ing at the sta­tion, de­scribed peo­ple “crawl­ing over one an­other” as they tried to flee. There was more panic, he said, when po­lice told them there had been an ex­plo­sion, and “some­one was run­ning around with a knife” and there was pos­si­bly an­other ex­plo­sive de­vice, he said.

One of the in­jured, Pe­ter Crow­ley, sus­tained burns to his scalp. He was luck­ier than others, he told BBC News. “It was a re­ally hot, in­tense fire­ball. There were a lot of peo­ple a lot worse than me. I saw a gen­tle­man with a puffa jacket and the whole back of that had been burned. He had burn marks across his face,” Crow­ley said.

In Par­sons Green, vis­i­bly anx­ious par­ents col­lected chil­dren from Lady Mar­garet school, which was on lock­down most of the day,.

A wed­ding that was due to take place in the par­ish church of St Dio­nis was in­stead held at a neigh­bour­ing par­ish church, the Rt Rev Dr Gra­ham Tom­lin, bishop of Kens­ing­ton, said.

“We had to move quite quickly,” he ex­plained. “It’s a sign that life can con­tinue and good things hap­pen even in the mid­dle of some­thing re­ally deeply evil like this.”

“Sadly this is some­thing that has be­come part of life in Lon­don. To­day we are deeply thank­ful the de­vice didn’t go off in the way it was in­tended to. We must not nor­malise it.”

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