Couple flee knifeman in London terror attack

Date: Friday 24th March 2017
Steve and Jennie Allison met with MP Rory Stewart at the Houses of Parliament shortly before the terrorist struck.
Steve and Jennie Allison met with MP Rory Stewart at the Houses of Parliament shortly before the terrorist struck.

AN Eden couple had to run for their lives after a knife-wielding man came towards them during Wednesday’s terror attack in London.

Five people died and dozens were injured in the attack, during which the man mowed down pedestrians as he drove a car along a pavement in Westminster, stabbed a police constable and was shot dead by police in the grounds of Parliament. PC Keith Palmer later died of his injuries.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who was in the Houses of Parliament at the time, was evacuated within minutes.

As the horrific scenes unfolded around Westminster in the heart of the capital city Steve and Jennie Allison, owners of Low Howgill Butchers and Deli in Appleby, were at the Houses of Parliament, having just attended the Countryside Alliance Awards ceremony.

Speaking to the Herald as they travelled homeward, Jennie said: “We were in the House of Lords for the reception from 12-30pm to 2-30pm with Penrith MP Rory Stewart. His aide offered to show us round the Houses of Parliament and said she would take us on a tour.

“We walked through towards the Commons, went into Westminster Hall and then out of the hall and were going to have our picture taken under Big Ben.

“But then I looked up and saw a man with a knife — we were only about 20ft away and he was just walking towards us so we turned and ran with the aide.

“As we were running back into the hall we heard gunshots. We turned into a side door which was staff passes only, so the aide let us in. We were trying to get back into Parliament but it was on lockdown.

“On the stairs we met an MP — Andrew Percy — and after we told him what was happening he took us up these stairs. Looking out of the window we could see police with guns running. We went up to the MP’s office and there was eight of us in there. We sat with lights off and no-one talking.”

The group got into the MP’s office at about 2-45pm but it wasn’t until 5-30pm that they were told the scene was clear and they were not able to leave until 7-30pm.

Speaking about their feelings as the horror unfolded, Jennie said: “I think you just think ‘Where can we safely get somewhere?’. It was just me and Steve — if our daughter had been there it would have been a completely different situation.”

Jennie praised Rory Stewart’s aide, Saria Eid — who helped them throughout the incident — MP Andrew Percy and also the police. “They were brilliant and knew exactly what they were doing. They kept us informed and told us what was going on. The police were so quick it made us feel safe, they were swarming everywhere with guns.”

Jennie said that after leaving the Houses of Parliament they continued to feel uneasy. “We got the tube this morning from Paddington through to Euston and we were just keeping an eye on everyone, in hindsight it was a close call.”

Saria said she was showing Steven and Jennie around the Houses of Parliament and was about to take their photo in front of the Big Ben clock tower when she heard a commotion.

She said she saw a number of officers running towards her shouting at bystanders to “run for their lives”.

The MP’s aide said she also saw the terrorist carrying two knives and estimated he was just 50m from her. “Everyone was running around me and I was looking for my constituents. I grabbed Jennie and said ‘follow me, follow me’.” In the confusion she heard “three consecutive gunshots”.

After unsuccessfully trying to get into the locked main chamber, they saw Andrew Percy, the Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole and the Isle of Axholme, who took them to his office and locked the door behind them — in addition there were also two reporters, an American student and a steward who had also sought refuge in the cramped office.

Saria said by now it was between 2-45pm and 2-50pm and it was hard not knowing what was going on. “It was very stressful, I was getting messages from friends and family, you are hearing the helicopters and people were saying the SAS were going to sweep the floors.”

She said that by 7pm they were allowed out of the building, by which time they were “emotionally exhausted”.

Reflecting on the death of PC Palmer, she added: “At first you feel sad and then you feel anger. It could have been a lot worse but I think of the way the police officer that lost his life was trying to protect us and that is a very big loss on its own. I think we owe him a great deal of respect.”

Only hours before the terror attack a group of 30 Eden primary school pupils enjoyed a tour of the Commons chamber as part of a trip to London.

Louise Anderton, headteacher of Morland primary school, who was helping to oversee the safety and wellbeing of 28 pupils from her school, plus two from Milburn School, said they came out of the Houses of Parliament at about 11-30am.

They saw the news that there had been suspected gunshots at Westminster while eating lunch inside Garfunkel’s restaurant in Trafalgar Square.

The headteacher said they immediately engaged their emergency procedures and took the children straight back to the hostel where they were staying opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. The group had been due to go on the London Eye at 5pm but cancelled the activity following the terror attack.

“The children were fantastic,” she said. “Obviously it was a bit of a nervous walk back with us all on heightened alert.”

She said they were honest with the children and explained to them what had happened, but there had been no tears.

“I contacted the school to let them know that we were fine and had not been been caught up in it,” she said.

Parents were then informed by text message and telephone calls to say that their children, who were due to return back to Penrith on Thursday evening, were all safe.

Since the incident, staff and pupils had been thinking of the families who had lost loved ones, and everyone who had been injured, with prayers also having been said.

A former chief constable of Cumbria, Craig Mackey, who is now deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was this week being treated as a “significant witness” to Wednesday’s events.

Speaking on Wednesday, Metropolitan Police commander Ben-Julian ‘BJ’ Harrington, said: “The acting commissioner, Craig Mackey, is being treated as a significant witness as he was at the scene when the incident started.

“While he is not injured, it would be inappropriate for him to be here to talk about the incident at this stage. Our thoughts and his thoughts are with all those involved and responding to the incident this evening.”

Mr. Mackey served in Cumbria between 2007 and 2011 and was interviewed for the London post by then Home Secretary Theresa May, along with then London mayor Boris Johnson.

Yesterday Cumbria police’s assistant chief constable, Sean Robinson said: “The thoughts of all officers and staff at Cumbria Constabulary are with all those affected by yesterday’s events in London, including the family of our Metropolitan Police colleague who lost his life.

“Public safety, as always, remains our priority. Whilst there is no specific threat to the county, we would urge everyone to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to us.”

l Anyone who sees anything suspicious is urged to contact either the 101 non-emergency number or the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321 — but always to call 999 in an emergency.