Soho Bombing: `People tumbled over each other in a panic to get out'

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The Independent Online
THE STREETS of Soho were crowded with people enjoying the sunshine on a balmy spring evening in central London at the start of a bank holiday weekend. Tables outside bars and cafes were packed, and people spilled out of pubs on to the pavements. Laughter, chatter, and the clink of glasses filled the air.

At 6.37pm, a loud explosion shattered the cosmopolitan scene. It came from the Admiral Duncan pub, a popular gay meeting place in Old Compton Street, in the heart of the district and in the street known as London's gay village.

But despite the happy atmosphere, some people in the area knew that extremist groups, said to be behind the Brixton and Brick Lane bombings, had also issued threats against the gay community and police had already been working over the previous few days with local people to improve security and vigilance. Unfortunately, they failed to the prevent the attack.

Amid the screams, the panic and the confusion, it became clear that the area had become the latest target of the fanatical person or group that has declared war on minority communities. When the dust settled, people who a few moments earlier had been enjoying a drink with friends were lying on the pavement with horrific injuries. Some had lost limbs; two were dead - on a night out in the centre of London. The pub has a dimly lit interior, and regulars said it would have been easy to leave a bomb in the corner and slip away unnoticed. Up to 40 people are thought to have been drinking inside at the time.

Witnesses described a "huge explosion" and scenes of hysteria after the device went off, apparently without warning. Martin Ireland, who was close to the scene of the blast, said wounded people were "lying all over the road in various states of dismemberment".

Alasdair MaCuish, 24, who had been drinking in a pub in Dean Street, said: "I heard a bang, and it was big. I went around the corner and saw smoke billowing out of the Admiral [pub]. There were people lying just outside the door and across the street. They were not moving. There was a lot of blood all over their legs and backs. There were people who had been sitting at a nearby cafe and they were all cut over their arms.

Several people told of narrow escapes. Christie Cain, 26, from Liverpool, said he had just left the Admiral Duncan with a group of friends when they heard the bomb go off.

"We were just a few feet from the door when it exploded behind us," he said. "I looked behind me and there was glass everywhere. I ran back and people were helping each other get away from the carnage. There were about 20 bodies on the floor. I saw one man with a severed leg."

Ben Cook, who was in his post-production studio in central Soho, when he heard the explosion, saw panic-stricken people running through the streets in terror. "There were other people lying in the road," he said. "I saw four or five people who were not moving."

There were early reports that some witnesses might have seen the bomb being planted.

One man, who gave his name as James, said he had passed people in the street who had been searching for a man they suspected had left the device. "One man was looking for a guy with long hair, a goatee beard and a blue and yellow T-shirt, wearing a baseball cap," he said.

"He said that he had seen this person plant the device in the pub. He said this man had just placed the bag on the floor. He said he saw him later on some steps in Dean Street, as though he was making sure the bomb had gone off."

Amid the panic, police tried to herd people out of Soho towards Oxford Street because of fears of a second device.

In Soho Square, a block away from the site of the blast, ambulance crews and paramedics set up a field hospital. About 30 doctors, nurses and ambulance men treated the injured in the middle of the square before transferring them to ambulances.

Hospitals in central London immediately launched in to the pre-planned major incident procedure, which involved clearing all non-essential cases from operating theatres and wards and calling in off duty staff. Fleets of ambulances took the injured to four hospitals.

The emergency helicopter service from the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, took doctors and medical equipment to the scene, setting down in Trafalgar Square.

James Fullum, who was in a nearby hotel, said he saw five people lying on the pavement after the explosion. "I thought they had been blown apart," he said.

"Passers-by tried artificial respiration on about three of them... and then the police and the ambulance arrived. I believe they were all male, they were covered in blood and there was smoke and intense fumes everywhere. You couldn't breathe.

"The police moved people out as fast as possible. They went from shop to shop making everyone get out."

Gavin Hans-Hamilton, proprietor of the French House, a well-known Soho pub, said some of the injured people were taken to other cafes and pubs in Old Compton Street. Pierre du Chamois, 30, a British Airways employee from London, had been shopping at a store called Clone Zone when the device exploded. "There were people running out all over the place," he said.

Mr du Chamois said he believed there had been about 30 people in the bar. "The Admiral Duncan was busy at the time and it's a small, dark place. I saw at least half a dozen bodies," he said.

A Scottish family who were visiting London said they had escaped injury by a matter of minutes. Joseph Shields, who was with his brother Billy and his nephew, also named Joseph, said: "There was a huge blast and the noise went on for a couple of seconds. Then there was screaming and the full front of the building had come out."

His nephew, 22, said: "People were tumbling over each other in a panic to get out. One landed on top of me and I could see his leg was covered in blood."

Brian Wright, 25, a homeless man, originally from Glasgow, said: "I was 20 yards away from the pub when there was this huge explosion and the whole area of the pub was just blown out.

"I went straight away to help get people out of the wreckage. I could not see because the smoke was so intense and I only managed to get one out. Then the police began to move people away.

"I think it was planned. It doesn't matter if they are gay or not. They are just human beings."

The emergency number for relatives of the casualties is 0171 834 7777.