Chaos and killings: 10 minutes at London Bridge

Image copyright Getty Images

The London Bridge attack claimed eight innocent lives in 2017. But only now, at the end of an eight-week inquest, can we pull together the experiences of all those caught up in the harrowing events of that evening.

It’s 10.07pm.

The sun has gone down on a warm summer’s night in London.

Xavier Thomas and Christine Delcros walk hand in hand towards the Shard, a vast skyscraper that rises on the south side of London Bridge, for a cocktail after a day’s sightseeing. But they never make it.

Youssef Zaghba drives a hired van over the bridge and up on to the pavement. The French couple, unaware, are still chatting when it hits Mr Thomas from behind, catapulting him into the River Thames.

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Ms Delcros is lying seriously injured on the ground. She recalls: “Suddenly I was under the impression there was a lot of light. I just heard myself say, ‘That’s how one dies – that’s it.'” She drifts in and out of consciousness, and asks for her fiance.

Over a matter of seconds, the white van, weighed down with bags of gravel from B&Q, careers from road to pavement, and back again. Pedestrians run for their lives as the van knocks one down after another.

Tyler Ferguson is a short way ahead on the bridge happily chatting to his fiancee, Chrissy Archibald, when he hears a man scream and the screech of tyres behind him.

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The van’s wing mirror brushes his shoulder and there is a loud thud as Ms Archibald is swept under the wheels. She is left lying in the middle of the road. Mr Ferguson runs to her side and she dies in his arms.

Meanwhile, the van veers on to the wrong side of Borough High Street and speeds past the Barrowboy and Banker pub, where all eyes have been glued to the Champions League final for most of the evening. Spanish team Real Madrid has just beaten Italy’s Juventus.

The van smashes into some railings, causing debris to rain down on diners sitting in a restaurant courtyard below, knocking one of them out.

People outside the pub and passersby rush towards the van, thinking there’s been an accident.

They want to help but instead find themselves face-to-face with three armed attackers – the van driver Zaghba, Rachid Redouane and ringleader Khuram Butt.

They are each carrying a 12-inch long ceramic pink kitchen knife from Lidl bound to their wrist with duct tape – and begin attacking anyone in their path.

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Armed police are still minutes away. Until then, there is no line of defence between the crazed, predatory knifemen and the innocent Londoners and tourists, who just happen to be in the area at the time.

Image copyright Metropolitan Police
Image caption Sara Zelenak is on a night out with her friend

In that chaos, Sara Zelenak and her friend, Priscila Goncalves, who are on a night out to have fun, become separated. “I had no idea what was going on,” Ms Goncalves says. “People said ‘run’ – I started to run. I thought she was with me and then I looked – she was not.”

Ms Zelenak has slipped in her heels on the wet pavement.

There is no CCTV footage of the next few fateful moments but witnesses say James McMullan, who has been watching the football with friends in the pub, tries to help Ms Zelenak to her feet – but they’re too late. The attackers set upon them with their knives, killing them both.

The three men then make their way down a set of steps and into a courtyard in Borough Market, bustling with Saturday night diners and drinkers, many of them tourists. At that same moment Sebastian Belanger, who has also been watching the football, is coming towards the steps in the courtyard to investigate the noise from the crash.

Under a dark archway, he is cornered and stabbed.

Several people come out of the bars to try to save him, including Lisa Deacon, who puts into practice the first aid training she’s been given a few weeks earlier. They spend a desperate half an hour trying to keep Mr Belanger alive – but without success.

Image caption Boro Bistro courtyard was busy with diners

Close by, Alexandre Pigeard, a waiter in French restaurant Boro Bistro is also drawn outside by the noise and straight into the path of the attackers, who stab him in the neck.

Diners in the restaurant push tables aside, sending glasses smashing to the floor as they run for their lives.

Andrius Vorobjovas nearly treads on a body in his haste to flee.

Image copyright Inquest Handout
Image caption Ignacio Echeverria cycles towards the attackers

Back on Borough High Street, two police officers are trying to tackle the knifemen who’ve just stabbed another man and woman. Ignacio Echeverria, who is cycling along the road with two friends, sees an injured man running away from London Bridge.

“It was like he didn’t even think about it, but reacted immediately,” remembers his friend, Guillermo Sanchez-Montisi.

Mr Echeverria jumps off his bike, pulls his skateboard from his rucksack and swings it at the attackers.

“One of the attackers was covering his head as Ignacio was hitting him with the skateboard… then suddenly Ignacio was on the floor,” says Mr Sanchez-Montisi, who runs away fearing he will be next. “It was very painful to leave my friend but we were going to be next. When he was looking at me, he looked like the devil,” he recalls.

His friend can’t be saved.

It’s 10.10pm

Eight people are fatally wounded, many more are wandering the streets or lying on the ground, clutching wounds and spilling blood on to warm pavements.

The attackers break into a run, with Butt pointing the way with his knife. Redouane ducks down to tie his laces.

“The place was in a panic,” recalls Jonathan Moses, an off-duty junior doctor who is looking outside from a tapas bar on lockdown. “I could hear people saying ‘oh God, oh God, help, help, they’ve been stabbed.'” He tells the staff guarding the locked door: “I can’t watch them die. You have to let me out and just lock the door after me.”

Once outside, he finds wounded Marie Bondeville, who keeps telling him she’s going to die. Dr Moses holds her hand and reassures her he’s going to save her – and he does.

He then helps to carry the skateboarder, Mr Echeverria, across London Bridge, continuing chest compressions while running. This time his patient can’t be saved. “Treat this like a warzone,” one air ambulance doctor at the scene tells Dr Moses.

Meanwhile, the attackers stab another person and another. US tourist Robert Piersant thinks a drunk has barged into him until he blacks out. His wife, Joyce, who is stabbed in the throat, knows in that instant her attacker wants to kill her.

“I can’t explain why… it was in his eyes,” she recalls.

Image caption The attackers kick the locked doors open and enter the restaurant

Outside Gerard Vowls, who has been watching the Champions League final, tries to stall the three knifemen by throwing chairs and pint glasses at them and calling them cowards. His makeshift weapons miss.

He gestures through the glass front of the Black and Blue steakhouse, opposite Elliot’s, to warn them.

The sliding glass doors are locked but Redouane kicks them loose. As the attackers enter the bar area, customers and staff in the dining area escape out of another door.

Redouane stabs Roy Larner, who does his best to fight back with his fists, while Butt tells Geoff Ho, another customer, to lie on the floor.

“No – you don’t have to do this,” he says, thinking that if he rushes at him, Butt might detonate his suicide vest and kill everyone. Mr Ho is repeatedly stabbed in the throat.

The attackers make their way out through the now empty restaurant area, taking a swig of water from a bar tap. Butt washes the blood from his knife and wipes it on his beard. He then picks up a bottle to smash on the side of the table – another weapon.

Image caption Butt tries to force his way into the bolted shut pub

It’s 10.15pm

Five unarmed police officers confront the attackers, who shout “Allahu Akbar” and charge at the officers. Butt throws a bottle at PC Bartosz Tchorzewski.

But they turn back and head for the Wheatsheaf pub just as Simon Edwards, who’s been out for a meal and drink with friends, walks out. His wife, Nicole, swiftly drags him back into the pub and staff bolt the door shut.

Butt is determined to force his way in. Mr Edwards watches as the bottom of the door, where there is no bolt, flexes with each kick.

Butt then starts smashing window panes around the door with his knife handle, only stopping when he see his accomplices stabbing a man – Antonio Filis – outside the pub. Their knives only narrowly miss his lung.

Image caption The police fear the attackers might detonate what they think are suicide vests

It’s 10.16pm

The pub is suddenly filled with blue lights – armed police are outside. The attackers move towards the officers.

Drop your knives, they say, as they shoot all three.

Inside the pub, Mr Edwards drops to his knees to take cover when he hears a volley of bullets. One stray bullet comes through the pub window, misses Mr Edwards by centimetres and hits Neil McLellan, who’s behind him, in the head. He survives.

The police keep firing at the attackers, fearful they might detonate what they believe at the time to be suicide vests.

On the street lie the bodies of the three attackers.

The attack is over.

Seven of their victims are dead. Xavier Thomas – who was thrown over the bridge parapet when he was struck by the van 10 minutes earlier – is not found for another three days, nearly two miles downstream.

Absorbed in conversation and madly in love, Mr Thomas – the first of the attackers’ victims – would have known nothing of the horrors inflicted on so many people on that devastating summer’s night.

This account of the attack at London Bridge on 3 June 2017 is told according to evidence given at the inquests into the deaths of the eight people killed, which began in May 2019.

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