I found my way back to Westminster from Greenwich to again visit the ticket office for the Houses of Parliament, as earlier this morning that office appeared to be closed. Today is my last day in London before moving on to Edinburgh, and I had really wanted to see the seat of the UK government before leaving. This time around, there was a man in the ticket office, but he told me that there were no tours today. He did, however, inform me that a debate in the House of Commons was going on at that moment and that the public is free to observe any debates. This was actually just the thing I had hoped to see, and so I hurried over to the Palace of Westminster, went through security, and before I knew it was observing a rather dull debate regarding pensions. I didn’t get the full gist of it, because I came into the chamber in the middle of it.
After a time, the chamber went quiet. I don’t actually know much about how these debates work, so I had assumed that the debate must have ended. I was just thinking that I would leave and visit the Tower of London once more, and then suddenly lots of people – Members of Parliament, or MPs – flooded the chamber. I suspected that some great debate must be about to happen, or an important announcement was to be made. It was then that the Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle spoke, announcing that a security incident had occurred and that the chamber was to be locked down. Shortly after that, another man spoke and informed the chamber that a police officer had been stabbed on the premises, and that there was a shooting. It was all rather scary, really, but I imagined that I was in the safest place to be if any violence had escalated.
Having no service for my cell phone, I asked one of the staff if there was any internet access, and he signed me into the building’s wireless network so that I could contact friends and family back home and let them know where I was at, and that I was safe. I made a Facebook call to my parents, and sent my girlfriend some messages to let them know the situation. I spent the next couple of hours keeping up with the news and the details of the incident as they came out.
After those few hours had passed, those of us who were observing the debates were told to head downstairs, into the main Westminster Hall. Who I presume was the police chief or some other high ranking officer made an announcement telling the hundreds of us in the Hall that the police had three priorities: that any medical emergencies must first be dealt with; that they needed to identify and gather information from witnesses of the incident; and that they would have to interview everyone in the Hall. As I sat on the steps towards the end of the Hall, I was a little bit annoyed that so many people had been gathered into one location. Frankly, keeping us all in that hall together made me feel more vulnerable as there would have been no exit should another attack occur targeting the crowd. Within the Hall, I no longer had access to the network that I was connected to back in the chamber – I asked a woman next to me if she had any updates on the situation, and she informed me that four people had died from a car ramming pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, and that the police officer who was stabbed had also died. It’s quite heavy to think that I likely saw that man on my way into the building just minutes before his death.
The crowd was finally released from Westminster Hall around 2000, though it was through a back gate of the premises. A staff member named George led me through the building to the appropriate exit. After exiting, a policewoman asked for my name and address, and after providing those details I was at last free to leave. I walked for a while in one direction, trying to separate myself from the crowds before finding an operating tube station. I was a little reluctant to take the tube, but Tower Hill station – which is nearest to where I’m staying – was too far to walk in these circumstances, and I wanted to avoid the sidewalks lest another incident occur. I made my way back to the hostel in this manner, where I downed a pint before retiring to my dorm.