Terror in London: 'They can't kill us all'
Sunday 02 May 1999
The bars and cafes set up for business as usual but the staff filled espresso machines and wiped down tables in silence. When there was music, from a muted radio, it was often unbearably poignant, or surreal. "I don't want to lose you now," sang a woman and the sound drifted over the silver metal chairs outside the Old Compton Cafe followed, unbelievably, by "Walking on Broken Glass". From the brasserie Soho Soho came "Tragedy" by the Bee Gees. Someone had the sense to turn the music off.
The streets around the bomb site had been blocked off in half-a-dozen places, but some curious collective instinct decreed that the gathering place should be on the corner of Frith Street. Perhaps people had just been drawn to the outside broadcast vans which lined the pavement, their satellite dishes pointing to the sky. Television camera crews jostled for position along the crash barrier, pointing their lenses at a line of policemen standing in front of a blue plastic sheet blocking the scene of destruction from the eyes of the world. Helicopters hovered overhead.
Those gathered were almost all young, male and female, fashionably dressed in tight T-shirts, Dockers, and sunglasses. They walked slowly and talked quietly as if afraid to disturb.
Many just stood and stared beyond the barriers. Others, for want of anything better to do, drank coffee and watched the crowd. Some of them were shopkeepers, anxious to return to their premises.
At first the police suggested the cordon would be lifted at lunchtime, then 3pm. As the hours passed the deadline was postponed. "I think we should be allowed to go back as soon as possible, or these bastards will be winning," said a waiter.
Police radios crackled with the news that a hastily evacuated Chinese restaurant had left its gas appliances on all night.
Floral tributes had been laid by the crash barriers in Dean Street opposite the entrance to Chinatown. "Don't let our anger turn to fear, let it make us stronger," said one card on a bouquet. "London loves you all," was written on brown paper wrapped around another bunch. Flowers had been brought by "someone who survived the horror of last night", and also by "the transgendered community".
"What is it all about?" a teenage girl with an Australian accent asked the policewoman.
"A bomb last night," came the policewoman's reply.
"No? Here? In a bar?" Her disbelief was obvious.
The Bishop of London, Right Rev Richard Chartres, came through the crowds on foot in a purple cassock. He was looking for Clare Herbert, vicar of St Anne's Church in Dean Street, just behind the cordon.
"This is an atrocious crime," he said. "It is a sin against God and the whole community. My heart goes out to the bereaved and injured. Our prayers are also for the priest and people of St Anne's and the staff and families of the school here as they struggle to continue bringing this community together in the face of an evil act."
The church has sometimes been highly vocal in its disapproval of the gay lifestyle, but Bishop Chartres said St Anne's was right at the heart of Soho, caring for all its people. "This church does not have a high threshold," he said. "It welcomes everybody and anybody."
He knew Soho well and had once been cheered down the street by its "working" women as he made his way to a school event decked out in full regalia. "This is a happy community," he said. "There aren't actually any terrible tensions here."
On Rupert Street, a handful of market stalls had been set up. A Mediterranean woman sat at the entrance to a strip joint and said to passers-by, "Live show, sir? On the house today." The stalls were selling fruit and veg, jewellery and clothing. There were T-shirts, including one with a picture of Adolf Hitler in full cry, next to the words, "European Tour 1939-1945".
It was almost as unfortunate as the fly-poster outside the Intrepid Fox pub which advertised a band called Neon Bomb and warned "Danger - highly explosive rock 'n' roll". Someone had tried to tear it down.
As the sun burned away the morning haze, the streets filled and people were drawn to Soho Square - a field hospital only hours before. Couples kissed on benches or ate ice cream by the glorious flowerbeds, close to where the injured and dying had lain. Some were reading newspaper coverage of the bombing, staring at the pictures. There were comatose bodies, but they were sunbathing or drunk. Tourists sat with guidebooks on their laps.
A Japanese man in a sports jacket and tie began to video a passing film crew.
On the wall of Tapestry, a photographic laboratory in Frith Street, was a notice printed by computer on A4 paper. In black letters on white it said simply: "They can't kill us all."
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