London Bridge attack inquest: Paramedics 'kept back from aiding victims by gun police'
Paul Woodrow, director of operations for London Ambulance Service, said areas of London Bridge and Borough Market were declared “hot zones” amid the fear of an ongoing marauding terrorist attack.
He told the inquest that only specialist firearms officers were permitted to enter such areas on safety grounds, according to the joint policies of London’s police, ambulance and fire services.
Mr Woodrow faced questions today about the paramedic response to the attack on June 3, 2017. Eight people were killed as three terrorists drove at pedestrians in a van before going on a stabbing rampage.
Gareth Patterson QC, representing families of the victims, has accused paramedics at the scene of a “remarkable lack of urgency”. He has said that the relatives of at least two victims, James McMullan and Sebastien Belanger, believe they may have stood a better chance of survival if they had received professional medical help sooner.
Both collapsed from stab wounds in the courtyard of the Boro Bistro restaurant but the first paramedic to go into the area — who was trained to deal with the aftermath of terror attacks — did not enter until three hours afterwards.
Body-worn cameras recorded two paramedics at 10.23pm discussing possible victims in the courtyard below the bridge, including one believed to be suffering a cardiac arrest, but they were interrupted by armed officers shouting: “Get out now, out now.”
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquest, confirmed the paramedics, who were wearing ballistic vests, helmets and goggles, “had reached the area immediately above the Boro Bistro”.
“There was some information suggesting casualties down below. As this started to be discussed, those staff members were directed away from the scene by armed officers.”
One of the specialist paramedics, Keir Rutherford, had been treating victims as he made his way to London Bridge, and continued to help people after being ordered out of the area.
“He was up on London Bridge and was in the area of the steps that went down into the [Boro Bistro] courtyard, but he was asked to evacuate off the bridge with colleagues,” said Mr Woodrow.
He said the designation of the courtyard as a “hot zone” happened just after a second burst of gunfire was heard. It was not until after midnight, and almost two hours after the terrorists had been shot dead by police, that the first paramedics were sent into the Borough Market area.
“Only specialist firearms officers go into hot zones to neutralise the threat,” he told the hearing.
The emergency services received 134 calls during and after the terror attack. Mr Woodrow said one of the reasons for holding back paramedics was a mistaken belief that a terrorist with an assault rifle was still roaming the area.
“An ambulance intervention team could be caught in the crossfire between an assailant and officers in there to try and neutralise that threat,” he said. He added that there was also a report of explosives in the van, but this turned out not to be true.
Kirsty Boden, 28, Xavier Thomas, 45, Chrissy Archibald, 30, Sara Zelenak, 21, Ignacio Echeverria, 39, and Alexandre Pigeard, all died in the attack alongside Mr McMullan, 32, and Mr Belanger, 36. The inquest continues.