30 November 2019 16:37
Below the dramatic judder of a police helicopter, workers around London Bridge gathered on the street on Friday afternoon, shellshocked by the violence inflicted yet again on a community still recovering from the tragic 2017 attack. "We've been standing here for an hour," said Alex de Silva, 25, a restaurant worker who had huddled with his colleagues on the pavement. "The police haven't told us anything, and we are waiting for our manager to tell us what to do because they don't want us to go home yet." His colleague, who did not want to be named, said he had been through this horror once before and never expected to experience it again. "You think it is a once in a lifetime thing," he said. "It is emotional, I am angry.
The window of our restaurant faces out to the street, I was shaking when we saw people running." Tell us: have you been affected by the London Bridge attack? Read more Neither he nor his colleagues knew how they would be getting home. "We were closed for more than a week and a half [after the 2017 attack] and let me tell you from the heart, it is very difficult. You could not work and you could not get paid; you were told it was not safe." Matthew Wilson, a teacher at the nearby Kaplan International College, and his long-time friend Ankit Panda, a banker, had been buying lunch from a stall when they heard shouting and police sirens. "Matthew had been asking me to come to Borough Market for lunch for six months now," Panda said, "and I was working from home today and thought: 'OK, why not? It's a quiet Friday.'" The pair got caught up in a panicked charge. Panda said: "An older lady fell over in front of us and this tells you something of the adrenaline of the situation: no one stopped, everyone ran over her. We didn't even stop. It was a stampede, people were running and trying to run in buildings and hide behind bins. Some people were trying to break into a construction workers' cabin to hide in there. We didn't know what was going on." Wilson, who lost his shoe in the chaos, said: "You hear about the sheer panic of these situations but when you're in it, you're going on instinct and so everyone was just running away. Your brain works in strange ways; I went back and found my shoe from the market. I even picked my box of mac and cheese back up which I'd dumped on top of a bin when we were running. But it was weirdly calm afterwards. It happened so quick." The two ran into the college, where a metal fire curtain came down and students and staff were kept on lockdown. Pubs, restaurants and offices were told to keep their doors shut. Staff at the fast food chain Chicken Cottage said they helped a woman who ran in from the street before pulling the shutters down. "She was panicked and we could see so many people running, that's why we knew something was going down," said one employee who did not want to be named. "The last time this happened, we got leaflets about staying alert and aware. It's sad people have been hurt and killed. It is scary, I don't feel safe in this area, it's why I work the day shift." Hemal, the newsagent at Classic News, closed his doors after an employee came running down from the bridge. "We didn't close the shop [completely] because we have our local customers and we couldn't refuse them, some are homeless people and they were afraid." Was he scared? "No, why would I be scared? So many police were here and they handled it."