Anti-terrorist chief urges shoppers not to be deterred: Feelings were mixed among those Christmas shopping yesterday. Mary Braid reports

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The Independent Online
COMMANDER David Tucker, head of Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist Branch, appealed to shoppers yesterday not to stay away from central London after two bombs exploded in the West End.

His plea met a mixed response among the thousands herded behind police cordons. Some businessmen were blase enough to try to persuade police officers to allow them into sealed-off areas. Most commonly, the bombs seemed to bring a little unexpected excitement or irritation. But many were genuinely shaken by the explosions.

Belinda Regan, 25, from south London, was shopping in Debenhams, opposite Lewis's, when the first bomb went off. She had left her friend in Lewis's a few minutes earlier and lost her in the subsequent evacuation.

'I have never been scared of terrorist attacks before but then I have never been this close to a bomb. It makes me really angry that the IRA is getting away with this but I won't be coming into Oxford Street again before Christmas.'

But a nearby pensioner said: 'I will still be shopping here. I wouldn't give the terrorists the satisfaction by staying away.'

That attitude was shared by Jennifer Davidson, 47, from Balham, south London. She said: 'I'm not nervous. I have trust in the managing director of John Lewis and the British police and if I am wrong I won't blame them when I get to heaven.'

But Helena Ware, 41, from Clapham, south-west London, said: 'I set aside two days to do my Christmas shopping but I won't be back tomorrow. I parked my car behind Lewis's just minutes before the bomb went off. It terrified me to think how close I was.

'Then there was the panic; the sirens and the helicopter overhead. The shop girls were crying and everyone was running.'

'One very English lady told me to stay calm. She said we cannot give in to them. But I will be going shopping in Croydon tomorrow.'

Despite the IRA attack on Brent Cross shopping centre, north London, last Christmas, the flight to suburban shops is becoming common, according to the Association of London Authorities. A spokesman said central London shops were losing out at a time when they should be getting their best business, because of public fear. While many were still shopping in the city centre, more were going outside the centre than before.

But the spokesman insisted that the IRA success was only partial, with city centre businesses and entertainment largely unaffected.

He said: 'If the IRA campaign aimed to cause massive disruption, then that is not happening.'

Yesterday's closures will have cost stores at least pounds 5m, according to the Oxford Street Association. The street takes between pounds 5m and pounds 10m a day in the last two months of the year.

John Lewis said it could not estimate how much custom the store, the group's flagship, had lost.

From 1 January, insurance companies will no longer guarantee commercial premises against damage by acts of terrorism.