Westminster staff and MPs to be offered counselling after attack

Nadia Khomami
Floral tributes left near parliament in honour of the victims of the London attack. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP/Getty Images

MPs and staff at the houses of parliament are to be offered counselling in the wake of the terrorist attack in Westminster.

Khalid Masood, 52, killed four people and injured more than 50 when he drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and attacked two police officers as he tried to enter parliament. He was shot dead by an armed officer.

MPs, staff and journalists were kept in lockdown in parliament on Wednesday as the attack unfolded metres away in one of the UK’s busiest tourist spots. Tensions were heightened by conflicting reports of what had taken place and graphic images of victims being uploaded on to social media.

A Commons spokeswoman said the House Service recognised that members of both houses, their staff, house staff and visitors to parliament may want professional support.

“To assist anyone who would like to talk through their emotions, and to give advice on how to cope with grief and trauma incidents, we are making a counsellor available on the parliamentary estate and a confidential phone line where constituency staff can talk to qualified and experienced counsellors,” she said on Saturday.

At the time of the attack in New Palace Yard, during which PC Keith Palmer died of stab wounds, MPs were passing through the cloisters between Portcullis House and the main parliament building on their way to vote. Theresa May was in a voting lobby.

Armed police rushed to the scene, and bystanders and paramedics tended to the bodies of Palmer and Masood. One of them was the foreign office minister and former soldier Tobias Ellwood, who rushed to try to resuscitate Palmer and stem the blood from his wounds.

Journalists said people were kept for hours on the parliamentary estate. Many sat in corridors, unlocked officesand Westminster Hall, unable to access news broadcasts. At one point misleading reports circulated that a second suspect was in the building.

The house said staff had been told that a counsellor would be holding a number of drop-in sessions over the next week. Parliament’s health and wellbeing service was also being made available to provide support on an ongoing basis, including for those working this weekend.

The spokeswoman said parliament was working closely with all schools whose pupils were on site at the time of the attack. “In partnership with the schools and local authorities, we will ensure the appropriate support is provided, if required. For other visitors, we will help direct to local services,” she said.

MPs could use the health and wellbeing service, “which offers confidential counselling, support, advice and guidance”.