Parsons Green attack: Commuters describe terror as fireball exploded through packed District Line carriage

Lizzie Dearden

Commuters who were in a packed Tube carriage when a homemade bomb exploded into a huge fireball have broken down while describing their terror in court.

Jurors at the Old Bailey were played CCTV showing the moment of the Parsons Green attack in September last year.

It showed hundreds of people fleeing the District Line train after a homemade bomb allegedly left on board by Iraqi teenager Ahmed Hassan detonated.

Moments before, men and women had been sipping cups of coffee and reading on their daily journey to work, before the blast turned the scene into one of panic and chaos.

People were crushed as they attempted to flee up a single staircase out of the station on 15 September, with others suffering serious burns.

Jurors were shown a replica of the device on the second day of Mr Hassan’s trial.

Explosives officer Andrew Gee, who examined and dismantling the device on the day of the blast, said it contained Isis’s signature explosive TATP (triacetone triperoxide) but had not fully detonated.

It was made of a silver Lidl frozen goods bag and contained a white bucket, a tupperware container wrapped in foil and a glass vase.

As Mr Gee worked on the device, the plastic bucket and bag continued to melt, while a glass vase cracked from the heat, he told the court.

Jurors were told that Hassan’s fingerprints were found on the Tube carriage, on the white plastic bucket, and on a pair of trousers covering it.

One woman wept as she told jurors how the flames burned her knees and face, going through her coat and melting her tights.

The commuter, referred to in court as Miss S, had boarded the train at Southfields Tube station on her daily commute, noticing a Lidl bag on the ground but seeing “nothing unusual” in a young man standing by it.

The man, alleged to be Mr Hassan, got off the train one stop before the bomb detonated with a “very loud bang”.

Miss S said there were “people screaming”, adding: “I saw people running. I think I saw fire. I think I jumped from the carriage probably on my knees.

“I remember I left and then I don’t remember this bit and then I just got on the bench and people started helping me.”

She wept in the witness box as she told the jury that her hair was also singed off, with the injuries needing significant treatment and leaving her with scars.

Another woman said she could see the flames “touching my legs. I could see them wrapped around by skin” and could hear people screaming in pain.

Sketch of Ahmed Hassan Mohammed (PA)

“The air was full of dust and debris,” Victoria Holloway recalled.

Fellow commuter Ann Stuart was carried to safety by a good Samaritan after her head was set on fire.

“This man picked me up and held me,” she said. “I just said to him, ‘get me off this platform’. He shouted to everybody to get out of the way and they just parted. I heard someone say, ‘oh my God’.”

Stephen Nash described how he was knocked unconscious by the explosion and woke up to find himself alone in the carriage, with the smell of burnt hair and bleach.

“There was a blinding flash to my left and I was engulfed in flame,” he told the court. “I was thrown to the ground. The flames were overwhelming.

“It was intense heat. I thought I had lost my ears. I thought my head was on fire.

“I was knocked out so I woke up on the carriage floor and it was a matter of seconds.”

He suffered severe burns on his head and ears, which were treated by a plastic surgeon as well as blisters to his mouth and nose.

Aimee Colville got on the District Line train seconds before the explosion. She said she heard a bang and felt the train shudder.

“Then a wall of glass came across and the gentleman who was standing in front of me, his head went forward when I saw the glass coming in front of me,” she added.

“I don’t know if I physically got myself down or if I blacked out, but at that point I noticed a flame come over my right side.

“It came over my side and that is when I smelt the burning.”

Miss Colville’s hair caught fire and she suffered from superficial injuries, but has ongoing back problems linked to stress after the attack.

Another victim of the bombing told how “chunks” of her hair were coming away from her head after the explosion.

Lucinda Glazebrook told the Old Bailey she was standing in a carriage on the District line when she saw a “fireball” over a man’s head.

“I heard screaming, and I let go of the pole and then I turned around and then I saw the doors were open, so I tried to make my way away from the fireball to get out of the carriage,” she said, breaking down into tears.

“I kept touching my face and feeling the back of my hair and my hair was coming out in chunks, and I asked somebody if my face was burnt, because I couldn’t see it but I felt the heat from the fireball so I was scared of the damage.”

A retired counter-terrorism officer said he saw a “rolling fireball” coming towards him after the doors started closing at Parsons Green station.

“I heard a huge popping sound,” Alex Beavan said. “Looking towards the direction of the sound, I saw a rolling fireball coming over the ceiling at the back of the train.

“When I saw the rolling fireball, wall to wall, slowly coming up the ceiling… everything goes in slow motion.

The UK’s terrorist threat level was raised to critical after the attack (Getty)

“There was a woman and she began screaming and some men were shouting ‘run’. I was aware there had been some sort of explosion.”

After seeing there was only one stairway out of the station, Mr Beavan “took cover” behind a wall.

“There was chaos and I was thinking there is going to be a second attack so I ran across the platform,” he said.

Mr Beavan said he looked for any casualties and called 999, seeing debris and abandoned bags and purses around large pot that was on fire.

Army officer Craig Palmer, who is trained in handling explosives and improvised explosive devices, was at the other end of the train at the time and described the “wall of faces in terror who rushed past”.

He moved down towards the blast site “looking for a person”, telling the jury: “I couldn’t see any parts of a person, and expected there to be a suicide bomber, or parts of a bomber.”

Mr Hassan allegedly used his prize for being “student of the year” to buy the key chemical to make his bomb from Amazon.

The Iraqi asylum seeker told immigration authorities Isis trained him to kill after forcing him to become a child soldier when they invaded the area where he lived, shortly after arriving in the UK in the back of a lorry in 2015.

He is accused of assembling the device containing 400g of explosives while his foster parents were away from their home in Sunbury-on-Thames on holiday.

The court heard Mr Hassan packed it with shrapnel to cause maximum carnage, buying the metal items from Asda and Aldi in Feltham the day before.

Jurors were shown CCTV footage from the day before of Hassan walking around Asda with a shopping basket before leaving via the self-service tills and going on to Aldi on his bicycle.

His receipt from Asda showed he bought matches, batteries and a screwdriver bit set.

The court was shown CCTV footage tracking his route to the District line, walking down the road with a large Lidl bag before boarding trains towards Parsons Green.

Mr Hassan spent 13 minutes in the station toilets, allegedly setting the timer on the bomb from 7.57am, before he boarded a District line train.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan said experts concluded it was simply “luck“ that the bomb did not fully detonate, with the defendant sitting in the dock with his head bowed as the footage was played.

Mr Hassan denies attempted murder and using the chemical compound TATP to cause an explosion that was likely to endanger life.

The trial continues.

Additional reporting by PA