People are led to safety on Southwark Bridge away from London Bridge after a terror attack. Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images.
People are led to safety on Southwark Bridge away from London Bridge after a terror attack. Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images.

Hidden horrors at London Bridge rampage

WARNING: DISTRESSING WITNESS ACCOUNTS.

Survivors of the London Bridge terror attack will never forgot the sight of terrorists hunting like "a pack of wolves", or their "empty, soulless, evil eyes". One survivor said simply: "He looked like the Devil".

The three killers took eight lives that night and wounded 48 others during a stabbing rampage in Borough Market that followed the van attack on London Bridge. Within 10 minutes they too were dead, gunned down by police - but the fight for life was only just beginning for dozens of others.

An inquest at London's Old Bailey has been examining the chaotic aftermath of the attack. It has heard about the eight murders, but has also delved into the attacks on survivors and the extraordinary acts of bravery ordinary people committed when they came face-to-face with the terrorists, Khuram Butt, 27, Rachid Redouane, 30 and Youssef Zaghba, 22.

In the hours that followed, people remained huddled together in bars they had barricaded themselves in, carried injured people to safety, or assisted emergency services treating the injured.

One of those was Gerard Vowls. To this day it is the screams for help he can't forget, often waking in the night hearing a woman, most likely Australian Sara Zelenak, 21, who was set upon and stabbed on the ground.

Like many people caught up in the atrocity, the 49-year-old was heading home after watching the Champions League final. People spilled out of packed London Bridge bars without knowing the horror that lay ahead.

 

Gerard Vowls did everything he could to save lives. Picture by Stephen Lock / i-Images
Gerard Vowls did everything he could to save lives. Picture by Stephen Lock / i-Images

Mr Vowls saw the horror unfolding and, instead of running, he took the attackers on when he saw them stabbing and "thrashing at the girl".

"That is the worst part. That's what gives me the nightmares. She kept saying, 'help, help me'," he said through tears from the witness box.

"I heard one of them say, 'this is for Allah'."

He first tried to pick up a bike and throw it at them and then shouted at them to distract them - urging the "cowards to come and get me".

"I don't think they were taking any notice of me," he said.

"I think they were sort of jogging left and right looking for the victims so they could attack them.

"I started shouting, 'terrorists'. I was pointing at them, going 'run'. I was just trying to warn as many people as I could."

The attackers ran into Borough Market and tried to force their way into a restaurant. Mr Vowls followed them.

CCTV footage showed him throwing a chair at close range towards attacker Khuram Butt, before one of them turned towards him.

"I shouted at them again, 'terrorist cowards', and just started throwing pint glasses and bottles at them - everything that was there."

Mr Vowls said his plan was to drive them into the hands of police on the main road. He also waved frantically to others in another pub, the Wheatsheaf, to warn them of the danger. Despite his efforts, he saw at least two people stabbed.

Inside the Wheatsheaf a life-and-death struggle was playing out.

Simon Edwards was on a night out with friends when he saw the attackers run past "like a pack of wolves".

 

Sara Zelenak was one of the first victims killed.
Sara Zelenak was one of the first victims killed.

 

London Bridge terror attack victim Kirsty Boden pictured with partner James Hodder.
London Bridge terror attack victim Kirsty Boden pictured with partner James Hodder.

Butt tried to get through the door, but the pub-goers had locked it and were pressed against the door to try and stop him coming in. He used his knife to start smashing the window in the door.

"He was pretty calm. He wasn't saying anything, just trying to get through the door."

Defeated, Butt, in an Arsenal jumper and fake suicide vest, continued on his stabbing spree. Mr Edwards watched through the window in horror as he set upon another man.

"As the guy with the Arsenal top attempted to smash the window, a guy walked past. The two others set upon him and the guy [in the Arsenal shirt] went to join them.

"All three of them were attacking the gentleman. They were running at him like a pack of wolves."

A friend of Mr Edwards unlocked the door to go and help the man, but Mr Edwards didn't want him to get hurt. They looked the door again and then heard gunshots. A bullet passed his head and missed him by just centimetres, but it hit another man, Neil McLelland in the head.

Mr Edwards opened the pub door again to go and get help because "every second was critical" and witnessed Butt's final moments.

"I remember he was handcuffed. His legs were moving, so I knew he was not dead. The suicide vest was still in place."

Helen Kennett was drinking prosecco to celebrate her birthday with her mum and sister when she saw a waiter, Alexandre Pigeard, 26, was bleeding.

She then saw why - his attacker was standing behind him holding a large knife. Her first thought was to offer help, but a dying Mr Pigeard told her to "just run".

Instead, she confronted the terrorist saying: "What's wrong with you?"

He replied: "No, what's wrong with you?"

An off-duty nurse, Ms Kennett told the inquest he had an "empty", "soulless" and "evil" look in his eyes.

"Before I could process what I was seeing was happening... he stabbed me in the neck to the left side," she said.

"I was convinced I was going to die but I didn't want to die there," Ms Kennett told the court.

"I wanted to die round the corner with my family."

All around Borough Market people were running, screaming, dying, in pain. but despite the danger, there were others who did everything they could to save lives.

Some risked their lives and made it out. One was Dr Jonathan Moses who was eating at a restaurant and looked out to see bodies on the pavement.

He rushed to help, begging a staff member to let him out.

"I said, 'You have to let me out, I'm a doctor.' He said, 'There's people being attacked, I can't let you out'.

"I said, 'I can't watch them die. You have to let me out and just lock the door after me to keep people safe'."

He helped a woman who was screaming.

"I initially thought this was a mugging or gang attack. She kept saying she's going to die. She's going to die.

"I held her hand. I told her, 'You are not going to die. I'm going to save you. You are going to be OK'."

Australian nurse Kirsty Boden acted in a similar way. She had been with her friends when she heard the van crash and told them: "I'm a nurse. I have to go and help."

She was seen helping Mr Pigeard before all three terrorists stabbed her. An autopsy later found the tip of a knife was embedded in her head at the top of her left ear.

Ms Boden, known as the Angel of London Bridge, has been recognised for her selfless act and is one of four Australian nurses to receive the Florence Nightingale Medal this year.

Another hero also paid with his life.

Spanish banker Ignacio Echeverria, 39, was stabbed to death as he tried to help Marie Bondeville, who was being repeatedly knifed on the floor.

He had been skateboarding with friends when he saw the attack. CCTV footage played in court showed him swinging his skateboard at Redouane before he swung his knife at him. In just five seconds, Mr Echeverria's life was over.

Mr Echeverria was posthumously honoured by the Queen at Buckingham Palace for his bravery.

His friend, Guillermo Sanchez-Montisi, said in a statement read at the Old Bailey: "It was like he didn't even think about it, but reacted immediately.

"He was to the right side of that group, hitting the attackers with his skateboard."

He heard the sound of the skateboard hitting the attacker, but it wasn't enough. He then watched his friend die as "suddenly Ignacio was on the floor."

"I saw him stab Ignacio deeply into his side or the back as he was on the floor," he said.

"I saw how the knife disappeared into my friend as he lay on the floor with his skateboard on top of him. This was the first time I saw the knife."

Then, the terrorist looked his way.

He managed to escape by throwing something in the way. But not before he got a good look at him.

"When he was looking at me, his face, he looked like the devil."

The trio were acting like killing machines, he said.

"They looked prepared, professional and they were stood ready to attack. They knew what they were doing and they didn't care."

The only ones that cared that night were the ordinary Londoners who were forced to do extraordinary things.

 

andrew.koubaridis@news.com.au


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