For a heart-stopping hour, it appeared a nation’s collective worst fears had come true.
On Black Friday on Britain’s best known and busiest street, packed with Christmas shoppers, commuters and school children, it seemed that terrorists had struck. At 4.37pm, hordes of people on Oxford Street were convinced they had heard the sound of gunfire and explosions.
It was a false alarm, but whatever they heard – or for that matter didn’t hear – prompted a stampede for cover. Shoppers ran for their lives, certain they were under attack.
The Metropolitan Police reported receiving “numerous 999 calls within a short space of time” that triggered its own anti-terrorism emergency response. British Transport Police said it had received a report of shots being fired on the platform at Oxford Circus Underground station.
Armed officers flooded the area. Oxford Street and the busy Tube stations at Oxford Circus and Bond Street were pressed into lockdown. Shoppers were urged to take cover in nearby buildings. The department stores that dominate the street, among them John Lewis and Selfridges, shut their doors and gave shelter.
Twitter users went into overdrive. On Facebook, people posted photographs of loved ones whom they could not contact and feared were missing. Olly Murs, the pop singer with almost eight million Twitter followers, posted at 5pm: “Everyone get out of Selfridges now gun shots!! I’m inside”, followed eight minutes later by “Evacuating store now!!! F--- heart is pounding.”
He would later, somewhat unfairly, be ridiculed for issuing such an overdramatic account but he was not alone in expressing his heartfelt terror.
Greg Owen, a 37-year-old Londoner, was certain the capital was under attack. “Guy with gun on Oxford Street near Oxford Circus I’m in the middle of it. Currently taking cover in French Connection,” he tweeted.
A quarter of an hour later he remained gripped by fear. “Latest update from the police ‘we can’t give you specifics. But there’s been shots fired and explosives. So please stay in the shop and move to the back’.”
Armed officers and ambulances raced to the scene. “Police have responded as if the incident is terrorist related,” said Scotland Yard in a statement issued at 5.16pm, 38 minutes after the first calls came in. “If you are on Oxford Street go into a building and stay inside until further direction,” came the advice, adding: “Avoid travelling to the Oxford Street area.”
Sophie Foster, 22, was having a drink with friends in a nearby bar. London had suffered four terrorist attacks this year already and Black Friday seemed an obvious and ominous day to target, highlighting tensions in the run-up to Christmas.
Miss Foster, like thousands of others in the area, was not taking any chances. “Outside the bar everyone started running and it was pretty frightening,” she said. “I heard a man was seen with a gun and I just want to get home as soon as I can.” By the time police began to report back to headquarters it was becoming clearer that the possible terrorist incident had not actually happened.
There were minor casualties. A man in a suit had a bandage wrapped around his head and blood seeping from the wound. He had presumably fallen as he fled. It was as bad as the injuries got.
At 5.39pm, a little over an hour after the first report, Scotland Yard was able to calm the country’s nerves. “To date police have not located any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or causalities,” said the statement.
At 6.05pm it was officially all over. “The Met response on Oxford Street has now been stood down,” came the official communiqué.
Meanwhile, Kensington Palace announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would still be attending the Royal Variety Performance at the nearby London Palladium, although their arrival was delayed.
London, after a difficult, horrible, terrifying hour, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will attend tonight's Royal Variety Performance
There were fears earlier this evening that their attendance at tonight's event might be cancelled following the mass evacuation on Oxford Street.
However, a spokesman for Kensington Palace has confirmed that the Duke and Duchess will still be attending.
"Their arrival will be delayed, but we hope they will be able to arrive in time for the start of the performance," they added.
TFL workers say no incident at Oxford Circus
A London Underground employee called Hassan said there was no incident inside Oxford Circus station. “We heard there was something happening outside and we were ordered to close the station,” he said.
Met Police end emergency response:
Our response on #OxfordStreet has now been stood down. If you sought shelter in a building please now leave, and follow the direction of police officers on the ground if you need assistance— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) November 24, 2017
Police cordons are taken down amid suggestions of false alarm
Members of the public are being allowed back onto Oxford Street following a mass evacuation less than an hour ago.
Officers on the scene have failed to find any evidence of gunshots being fired, as had been reported initially.
Scotland Yard and the British Transport Police are currently investigating what prompted the mass panic.
A big thank you for bearing with us whilst we and @metpoliceuk responded to #OxfordCircus.— BTP (@BTP) November 24, 2017
Armed officers were quickly on scene, no evidence of gunfire found. The area was searched swiftly and we are working to lift cordons and reopen stations.
Police investigating circumstances behind panic
British Transport Police: "At 4.37pm this afternoon, officers were called to Oxford Circus station following reports of gunfire on the westbound Central Line platform.
"Passengers at the station then self-evacuated the station onto Oxford Circus and Regent Street area of London.
"This caused a significant level of panic which resulted in numerous calls from members of the public reporting gunfire.
"Officers responded in line with our procedures of a terrorist incident, this included armed officers from British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police.
"A full and methodical search of the station and Oxford Street was conducted by officers.
"At this stage, we are examining the circumstances of the incident which resulted in the station being evacuated.
"During the station evacuation, one woman is believed to have sustained a minor injury.
"We continue to work with the Metropolitan Police Service and are working to reopen Oxford Circus and Bond Street Tube stations. "
Underground stations reopen as police find no evidence of gunshots
Transport for London: Oxford Circus and Bond Street stations now both reopened and all trains are stopping normally.
Police have not identified any trace of gunshots
To date police have not located any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or causalities. Officers continue to work with colleagues from British Transport Police in the area of Oxford Circus.
Updates will be provided as soon as we have them.
If you are in building stay in a building, if you are on the street in Oxford Street leave the area.
Officers are continuing to search the area.
One woman injured during stampede, police confirm
British Transport Police tweeted: "At this stage, we have received one report of a woman sustaining a minor injury when leaving Oxford Circus station. There are no other reported casualties. More updates to follow."
Selfridges evacuation thought to be caused by false alarm
Reports of gunshots at Selfridges are thought to have been a false alarm, according to a security guard speaking to The Telegraph.
The panic is believed to have spread by rumours of a gunman inside. The shop has now been completely evacuated.
Panic in shops as people run from reports of gunshots
A Telegraph employee was shopping in John Lewis with her daughters when there was a sudden stampede for the doors and people screaming amongst reports of gunshots.
The trio were ushered into the the basement of a chemist around the corner from Oxford Street, along with scores of other shoppers.
"We were in the women's section on the second floor when there was loads of screaming and a mass stampede," she said.
"People we are with said they had heard gunshots."
Three fire engines and 15 firefighters attend incident
In a statement posted on Twitter, the London Fire Brigade said: "We were called at 1643 to an incident at Oxford Circus tube. Three fire engines & 15 firefighters are in attendance. Please avoid the area."
More footage of people running from London's Oxford Circus as armed police respond to reports of gun shots. pic.twitter.com/g3NBzQiOLc— HAYDN R. SNAPE (@HAYDNRSNAPE) November 24, 2017
Oxford Circus and Bond Street stations closed
Oxford Circus remains closed while Bond Street station has also been shut to prevent overcrowding.
Hundreds of people are being directed down Bond Street away from the area.
Police are not treating incident as 'mass casualty attack'
A BBC producer and director said police are not dealing with a "mass casualty attack" as armed police descended upon Oxford Circus tube station.
Ruaridh Arrow tweeted: "Police officers on the scene have told me this is not a mass casualty attack. No ambulances beyond the cordon. Sense the incident is drawing down."
Witnesses describe panic as police arrived on Oxford Street
Lisa Markwell, the former editor of the Independent on Sunday, told LBC radio that she was travelling in a car through the West End of the capital when she a "mass" of people screaming and running.
"I was passing by car by Oxford Street Tube station. Suddenly people started screaming an running. From the back entrance of Bond Street station I saw a police car. Three armed police officers got out and ran towards Selfridges.
"It's such a massive shopping day, there were lots of people around."
She added that although she did not see or hear any gunfire, "It was just a large mass of people moving to get out o the way."
Scotland Yard investigating reports of shots fired
Police were called at 16:38hrs on Friday, 24 November to a number of reports of shots fired on Oxford Street and underground at Oxford Circus tube station.
Police have responded as if the incident is terrorist related. Armed and unarmed officers are on scene and dealing along with colleagues from British Transport Police.
If you are on Oxford Street go into a building and stay inside until further direction.
Avoid travelling to the Oxford Street area.
At this stage police have not located any casualities.
Selfridges is being evacuated
The designer store is being evacuated by police according to social media users.
Police can be seen standing at the entrance as people are led out.
Witnesses describe panic inside tube station
Greg Owen, 37, from London, said: "I was next to the tube station and everyone started screaming and shouting and then a flood of people came up the stairs."
And a witness who only wanted to be known as Emma said she heard something which sounded like "three shots."
If you are on Oxford Street go into a building. Officers are on scene and dealing. More info when we can— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) November 24, 2017
She said: "There were shots fired on Oxford Street and then armed police ran into me and my friend.
"Armed Police were running up Argyll Street and now we're locked in French Connection."