Dad caught up in Oxford Street panic tells of chaos - and anger at Twitter users' false information
A Fylde dad caught up in a stampede in London in a false terror alert has told of 'absolute panic' - and blasted social media users for causing mass hysteria.
Andrew Steen, 38, was about to go into Selfridges on Oxford Street on Friday when people started to run amid fears of a shooting near Oxford Circus Tube Station at just after 4.30pm
The father-of-two, from Lytham, described the chaos as people ran and hid during the alert.
He said: “I thought I would nip into Selfridges but just as I did so this absolute panic just erupted. People were running in all different directions, shouting things like ‘there’s a shooter’, or someone’s in a lorry or there’s smoke coming out of the tube.
“There was very quickly a police presence and everyone was just running. That’s the logical thing to do but where do you run? It was like a bull run. People were being pushed over and one lady who was only about 4ft 6ins tall looked really hurt. No-one knew what was happening. It was crazy. So as much as you don’t want to, you go on social media to find out.
“When you see an account with a blue tick on Twitter you think it’s responsible and it’s accurate but some of the things I saw was just hysterical and simply added to the spread of false information.”
Sky News presenter Kay Burley and pop star Olly Murs were singled out for criticism after tweeting unverified information as the drama unfolded.
Burley posted: ‘Man with a gun in Oxford Street. Stay away from the area. Tune to @skynews NOW’
Police at the time said they were responding to reports of shots fired but didn’t say anything about ‘a man with a gun’.
And Murs, who was in Selfridges at the time, wrote: ‘Everyone get out of @Selfridges now gun shots!! I’m inside. Really not sure what’s happened! I’m in the back office... but people screaming and running towards exits!” He later added: “Being told no shots in Selfridges! Have no idea the whole store went crazy.”
He was later attacked by TV show host Piers Morgan, among others, for stirring “up extra needless panic by tweeting false information”.
After police said there was no evidence of shots being fired or any casualties, Morgan told Murs: “Stop tweeting mate @ollyofficial. Nothing happened.”
He added: “When you have millions of followers be very careful what you tweet. There were no shots, in fact nothing happened at all.”
Andrew, a sales and marketing director, said: “For a news professional what Kay Birley posted was a disgrace. And because Murs is a successful singer, he has a big audience and with that comes responsibility. Why if you are hiding in Selfridges does your mind think to tweet?
“Everyone was making a decision in their minds about what happened without knowing the full facts. Some people were even running towards the area it was so confused.
And there were even people standing on Oxford Street with their phones hoping something was going to happen. I’m sure some people just posted stuff to create an issue - just because Dave from Winchester or whoever posts that he has seen a lorry hitting people, it doesn’t mean it’s happened.
“People are jumpy, especially London. If there’s an electricity fault and there’s a bang, people will worry and react. But people really shouldn’t add to the panic by being totally irresponsible.”
The incident that sparked the mass evacuation was caused by an “altercation” between two men, British Transport Police said. Two men, aged 21 and 40 handed themselves in following police appeals They have been interviewed..
Several people were injured and nine were taken to hospital, including one with leg injuries, after panic erupted in the packed station.
Around 90 minutes after responding, police said there was no evidence of any shots, casualties or suspects.
The station was reopened, cordons removed and the area returned to normal, including the Royal Variety Performance at the nearby London Palladium going ahead as planned.