`We gave thanks that our children escaped'
John Cobb, a journalist at The Independent, reflects on the attack that shook his parish
Tuesday 30 November 1999
At 6.30am, Brook Road, Thornton Heath was dark save for the lights from the television camera crew vans, unloading their equipment for a long day of interviews. Parishioners, going about their daily routine of early mass, had rather more company than usual as they arrived in the gloom. The attentions of reporters and photographers were mostly unwelcome, people preferring to share their thoughts with each other or keep painful memories to themselves.
Prayers were said for the victims of the attack and for their attacker, led by the curate, Father Bill Agley. Father John O'Toole, who also presided, said all the church could offer at the moment was silence and prayers. He voiced the anguish and incredulity at the attack.
Seeing the church again, picturing how the previous day's events unfolded, how I had been one of those who wrestled the attacker to the ground, I began to realise how lucky I had been, how lucky all of us who had not been struck down by the swordsman had been.
What if he had entered by a different door, perhaps the door to the hall where the children were? What if the organ pipe that the off-duty policeman Tom Tracy used to parry the sword had not broken free? What if the three other men who led the counter-assault on the attacker had not been there to stop him? He could so easily have carried on. There was a realisation, too, that it was chance that the youngest children had not returned to the main body of the church.
On Sunday, people had dispersed quickly from the grisly scene. Yesterday, there was a chance for the parishioners to piece events together, to put names to the injured.
Last night police charged a man with attempted murder in connection with the attack. Eden Strang, 26, an unemployed man, was charged with trying to kill Paul Chilton outside St Andrew's Roman Catholic church in Thornton Heath, south London, on Sunday. Strang, who lives close to the church, will appear before Croydon magistrates today.
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