News, Culture & Society

London Bridge terror attack: Six minutes of carnage and courage

It was the cold-blooded terrorist attack that claimed eight innocent lives — and left a further 48 seriously injured. On June 3, 2017, three Islamic extremists mowed down passers-by on London Bridge before embarking on a brutal stabbing rampage. But as an inquest into the killing of their victims concludes, countless tales of courageous acts have come to light. Here, in the first of a two-part account based on inquest reports in the public domain, JONATHAN MAYO details the savage atrocity minute by barbaric minute . . .

Saturday, June 3, 2017

It is a warm, mellow night in the capital. In the streets surrounding Borough Market, just south of London Bridge, pubs and bars are packed with people who had been watching Real Madrid beat Juventus in the Champions League final.

10.03pm

Xavier Thomas, 45, is walking with his fiancée Christine Delcros towards London Bridge. The French couple had arrived on the Eurostar that morning and are heading to the Shard for a drink.

At 10.03pm, Xavier Thomas, 45, was walking with his fiancée Christine Delcros towards London Bridge

On June 3, 2017, Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba (pictured) mowed down passers-by on London Bridge before embarking on a brutal stabbing rampage

On June 3, 2017, Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba (pictured) mowed down passers-by on London Bridge before embarking on a brutal stabbing rampage

As they approach the bridge, Christine starts to feel uneasy. She thinks back to the terrorist attacks on the nearby Westminster Bridge that claimed six lives three months before, and suggests they go somewhere else.

‘Why are you telling me this now?’ Xavier says and starts to look on his phone for a different place to visit. But knowing how much Xavier wants to see the view from the 1,004ft high Shard, Christine agrees to cross the river.

Nearby, Canadians Christine Archibald, 30, and Tyler Ferguson have just enjoyed a Thai meal on the north side of the Thames, and are walking back to their hotel south of the river.

They planned to walk over Tower Bridge, but decided on London Bridge at the last moment. Christine suddenly grabs Tyler and tells him how much she loves him and then kisses him.

10.06pm

A white Renault rental van starts heading south on London Bridge. In the front are three men — Khuram Butt, 27, dressed in a red-hooded top and camouflage trousers; Rachid Redouane, 30, wearing a striped top and jeans and trainers; and at the wheel, Youssef Zaghba, 22, in a black hooded top and black trousers.

Each man has a 12-inch pink-handled ceramic knife, tied to their wrists with duct tape.

In the back of the van are 29 bags of gravel to give the vehicle greater weight and force.

Khuram Butt was born in Pakistan but has lived in Britain for most of his life. He has a wife and two children at home in East London.

Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba were both born in Morocco and also live in London.

Rachid Redouane was refused asylum in 2009, but three years later married a British woman and they have a one-year-old daughter. That afternoon, he had looked after his daughter while his estranged wife went to a family barbecue. On London Bridge Christine Archibald and Tyler Ferguson are heading south on the left-hand pavement. For some reason, they swap sides so Tyler is now closer to the balustrade and Christine is next to the road.

10.06pm and 51 secs

Holly Jones, a BBC journalist who is heading north across the bridge, walks past Xavier Thomas and Christine Delcros. She overhears them speaking French and thinks to herself that ‘they look very happy together’.

Then Holly hears the sound of an engine revving loudly. She can see a white van approaching and initially thinks it must be a drunk-driver. She then watches in horror as the van, now travelling at 27mph, mounts the pavement, hits and injures three pedestrians and then veers back on to the road. Holly can now see the driver — she will later recall how his eyes were wide and it was ‘terrifying to see his face’. She jumps out of the way and feels a rush of wind as the van sweeps by.

As it reaches the middle of the bridge, the van mounts the pavement again. Xavier is still walking hand-in-hand with Christine and is on his mobile chatting to his 17-year-old son, Nicolas.

Eight people died in the attack. Top row, left to right: Christine Archibald, James McMullan, Alexandre Pigeard, Sebastien Belanger. Bottom row, left to right: Kirsty Boden, Sara Zelenak, Xavier Thomas and Ignacio Echeverria

Eight people died in the attack. Top row, left to right: Christine Archibald, James McMullan, Alexandre Pigeard, Sebastien Belanger. Bottom row, left to right: Kirsty Boden, Sara Zelenak, Xavier Thomas and Ignacio Echeverria

Christine sees the van heading straight for them and thinks: ‘That’s how one dies. That’s it.’

The van hits Xavier, catapulting him into the air and over the parapet into the Thames.

Christine sustains serious injuries, fracturing her pelvis, left collarbone and fifth vertebrae.

Holly Jones runs to where Christine Delcros is lying injured and looks around for the man she was walking with, but she can’t understand where he has gone. Xavier’s glasses are lying on the pavement.

Youssef Zaghba steers the van back on to the road and then on to the pavement a third time.

10.07pm and 7 secs

Tyler Ferguson turns and sees the white van heading straight for him and his fiancee. As the driver’s wing mirror hits him he hears a thud. He looks for his partner Christine and sees her arms and legs under the front of the van as it speeds away — she is being pushed along the road. As the van crosses the central reservation, her body becomes dislodged.

‘I remember looking down at her mangled body while she convulsed and released her life from her physical body.’ Tyler later said. Christine was killed almost instantly.

10.07pm and 17 secs

Past the end of the bridge, the van veers right and crashes into the balustrade next to The Barrow Boy & Banker pub, sending bits of concrete down into the courtyard of a French restaurant named the Boro Bistro below street level — injuring several people.

In the van, the airbag has inflated and, one by one, the attackers get out of the passenger side.

Richard Livett, 53, who had just left a nearby pub, watches what he assumes to be a car accident and starts to walk towards the van to see if the occupants are injured.

Khuram Butt runs up to him until their noses are almost touching and screams in his face: ‘Allahu Akbar!’

Richard then feels a punch in the back, and, as Butt withdraws the knife with a downwards motion, he realises he’s been stabbed.

Richard slumps to the floor and starts crawling away to get help. ‘I realised what was happening. It was a terrorist attack, so I needed to get up and try and get this sorted out.’

Holding their knives in front of them, Butt, Redouane and Zaghba head towards stone steps that lead down to the Boro Bistro.

Each man had a 12-inch pink-handled ceramic knife, pictured, tied to their wrists with duct tape

Each man had a 12-inch pink-handled ceramic knife, pictured, tied to their wrists with duct tape

10.07pm and 30 secs

Almost at the top of the steps is Priscila Goncalves and her friend Sara Zelenak, 21, an Australian au pair who had been given the night off work at the last minute.

They heard the van crash and want to find out what’s going on. Suddenly ahead of them they hear someone shout ‘Run!’ and Priscila turns and rushes down the steps, but Sara slips over on her high heels. Businessman James McMullan, 32, a dual British-Filipino national who had been watching the football in a nearby pub, takes Sara by the hand and gently tries to get her to her feet. They don’t see the men rushing towards them. Butt and Redouane stab James in the chest and Sara in the neck multiple times. ‘There was no chance for them,’ an eye-witness said.

Butt leads the attackers down the steps into a lane called Green Dragon Court. As screams ring out, there is increasing panic and people flee to get away.

Some turn right towards Boro Bistro, while others rush straight on down Green Dragon Court towards Borough Market.

A waiter at a café at the foot of the steps quickly moves chairs out of the way to help them escape.

10.08pm

A French waiter at the Boro Bistro called Alexandre Pigeard, 26, who had left the restaurant to investigate the crash, comes face to face with the attackers at the foot of the steps.

They stab him in the neck and he falls to the ground but manages to walk back towards the courtyard in front of Boro Bistro.

The courtyard is full of the sound of glasses smashing as tables and chairs are turned over by fleeing diners. One of those running is Robin Colleau, a friend of Alexandre’s, who sees him on the ground covered in blood.

‘Robin, please help me, my neck is open,’ Alexandre says. Robin hesitates for a moment and then says: ‘I’m sorry, I have to run away because there’s someone stabbing people behind us.’

He then runs down the alley to the left of the Boro Bistro.

Richard Livett, the first to be stabbed, has been trying to find help. He bangs on the door of the nearby Globe Tavern in desperation but they won’t open the doors. He falls face down on the road outside.

Rasak Kalenikanse, a bouncer from The Barrow Boy & Banker pub, is standing next to the crashed van and looking down into the courtyard. He sees French chef Sebastien Belanger, 36, walking in the direction of Butt, Redouane and Zaghba under a dark archway.

Rasak shouts to Sebastien to ‘Go back!’ but it’s too late. One of the attackers steps forward and fatally stabs him in the stomach and the others join in. Sebastien tries to fight back, but is overwhelmed.

Rasak sees Butt shout: ‘We are doing this because of Allah, you unbelievers!’

10.08pm and 5 secs

Realising what is happening, Australian Kirsty Boden, 28, a senior staff nurse based at nearby Guy’s Hospital, leaves her table at Boro Bistro telling friends: ‘I have to go and help.’ She crouches down next to Alexandre Pigeard, the injured waiter.

10.08pm and 16 secs

Khuram Butt sees Kirsty helping the man he had tried to kill moments before. He rushed over and stabs Kirsty in the heart and head, leaving the tip of the knife in her skull.

But somehow, Kirsty gets up and runs through an alleyway to the side of the Boro Bistro before collapsing near a pub called The Mudlark.

Next, the attackers advance towards Boro Bistro where two women, Marie Drago and Marine Vincen are trapped. Witnesses describe Butt, Redouane and Zaghba ‘corralling’ the women like cattle. When Marie and Marine can’t retreat any further they are stabbed one by one, but survive. Khuram Butt sees that Alexandre Pigeard is still alive and holds him up in front of him. Helen Kennett, an off-duty nurse who had been out celebrating her birthday with her mother and sister, bravely walks towards Butt, stopping just six feet away.

In the back of the van, pictured, were 29 bags of gravel to give the vehicle greater weight and force

In the back of the van, pictured, were 29 bags of gravel to give the vehicle greater weight and force

With his free arm, Butt is holding his knife up in the air ready to strike Alexandre again. But Helen reaches out a hand and tries to help him.

Alexandre shakes his head: ‘No, just run.’ Thinking that Butt’s eyes look ‘completely soulless, evil, empty’, Helen asks: ‘What’s wrong with you?’

‘No, what’s wrong with you?’ he spits back, before lunging forward and stabbing Helen in the neck.

She feels what seems to be a bucket of warm water pouring down her body. Out of the corner of her eye, Helen can see Butt’s accomplices leaping over ornamental bushes to attack the other diners.

‘Everybody was shouting, everybody was screaming, but I knew at that point “I can’t help anybody and I’m pretty sure I’m going to die as well”. But I didn’t want to die there.’

Helen stumbles away to find her mother and sister who have run down the alleyway to the side of the bistro.

Butt then stabs Alexandre twice in the stomach and starts smiling as he looks around for someone else to kill.

10.08pm and 29 secs

British Transport Police Officer Wayne Marques is on patrol in the London Bridge area with colleague PC Leon McLeod.

They spot Richard Livett — the first person to be stabbed — on the ground being looked after by off-duty policeman Charles Guenigault. PC McLeod radios for an ambulance.

10.09pm

In the alley to the side of Boro Bistro, two friends having dinner with Kirsty Boden, Harriet and Melanie, watch Helen Kennett stagger past them with her mother and sister.

Helen is trying to disguise the extent of her injures from her family, but blood is pouring from her neck.

Melanie decides they must go back to the bistro to find Kirsty and screams her name when they find her on the ground. Kirsty’s eyes are open and staring. She is gasping for air but can’t speak.

Dr Saira Kahn, a GP who had also been dining at Boro Bistro, is standing over Kirsty, trying to find a pulse. ‘It was actually quite hard to decipher whether it was my own pulse. My head was thumping, my chest was thumping.’

Dr Kahn can’t find a pulse so immediately starts chest compressions.

On the hunt for more victims, Khuram Butt shouts to his accomplices and Redouane and Zaghba follow him towards the steps leading up to the bridge.

As they reach a café near the bottom of the steps, they hesitate for a few seconds and stare at the waiters guarding the door. But they decide to run on.

At the top of the steps they turn right and run south along a busy Borough High Street. Their knives are dripping with blood.

The attack on the courtyard was over in just two minutes. 

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