Hoaxes deepen traders gloom

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

IT SHOULD have been Oxford Street's busiest day, the last Saturday before Christmas when taking exceed pounds 10 million. In a recession it was a final chance to recoup some of the year's losses.

Instead there was an IRA bomb hoax and an evacuation of part of Oxford Street, all of Regent Street and many other roads nearby. It lasted the entire morning and left the country's most famous shopping area deserted and eerily silent. For the thousands watching behind police lines all there was to see was a few white police vehicles nosing out from distant side roads.

By 11am, in Marks and Spencers, on Oxford Street, just outside the cordoned area, a manager was muttering to staff that the day was already lost. Those undeterred by the closure of tube stations and the subsequent walk into the centre were unlikely to stand the drizzle and cold much longer.

The Oxford Street Association has played down the blow inflicted by the two IRA bombs on Wednesday. Yesterday there was no doubt it was a miserable end to a miserable trading year.

'It has been quiet since Wednesday and bad all year but today is a disaster,' said Hossam Elliessy, owner of The Base clothes shop during the evacuation of Carnaby Street as he pulled down his shutters.

Carmen Farruija, an employee in Spreads coffee shop, said: 'We are just trying to make a living. I just wish the terrorists would give this up.' Koko, an Armenian shoe shop owner, said it was a 'terrible day'. Britain was being 'too lenient' with the IRA.

There was panic as traders left Carnaby Street. A man who received a telephoned warning that there was a bomb in his shop ran screaming into the street. Scores scattered for cover.

Sitting in a doorway doing paperwork, Karen Gow, evacuated from Laura Ashleys, said customers were saying they would not be frightened off. But when the area was reopened at lunchtime the streets were comparatively quiet.

For one middle aged woman, with thick spectacles, it was all too much. 'I am trying to phone my father to tell him I am okay. This really frightens me. I am going home and I won't come back.'