Witnesses have described the scenes around the British Museum in London on Wednesday night after one woman was killed and five injured in a mass stabbing.

‘I heard a woman screaming’

The two hotels that overlook the street where the incident occurred, the Imperial and the President, don’t have CCTV cameras that face on to the square, and guests were mostly unaware of the attack until long after it had happened.

But Michel Godbout, who was visiting London from Canada and staying at the President, said: “About 10.30pm I was in my room and I heard a woman screaming – a couple of times in one minute, then I didn’t hear anything. I was almost asleep, I heard police after that but didn’t look out the window. My view is blocked by trees. I only found out what happened this morning when I turned on the TV. If I had known I would have gone out to help or something.”

‘I need a hospital. I need a hospital’

Spanish tourists Anna Calderón and Laura Gómez told the Guardian they saw one of the victims, a blonde woman in her 20s or 30s, running northwards up Southampton Row.

“We saw a woman with her hand holding her side,” they said. “She was running and shouting: ‘I need a hospital. I need a hospital’. A man who looks like he was in his 60s and a woman stopped a taxi and helped her.

“We had just said goodbye to a friend who lives here in London and we saw this. We didn’t understand what was going on because there was no blood. It was about 10.35pm,” said Gómez.

Russell Square attack witness: 'I heard a woman screaming' Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Spanish tourists Anna Calderón, right, and Laura Gómez, centre, at the scene of the Russell Square stabbing on Thursday morning. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll for the Guardian

Calderón added: “When we got to the hotel we heard the sound of ambulances. But we didn’t know anything until we saw what had happened this morning on the TV.”
The women, from Madrid, said the attack did not deter them from coming to London. “Scared? No, because I think it is an incident that could happen anywhere and we live in Madrid and we had the terrorist attack on the train so we know what the risks are,” said Calderón.

‘He had blood on his hands’

A woman who witnessed the aftermath of the Russell Square stabbings told how she saw a man running away from police, carrying a knife with blood on his hands. Jodie Parry, who was in her hotel room when she heard a “commotion” in the street, told the BBC that the attacker ignored police as they screamed at him to stop running.

“He was running down the street he was turning to see if the police were coming close,” Parry said. “I could hear the policeman screaming: ‘Stop, don’t move, don’t go any further, just stay where you are’ and he turned around and continued running. He just wasn’t prepared to stop. He was actually carrying a knife in his hand and he had blood on his hands.”

‘Call someone, call an ambulance’

A cyclist passing the scene moments after the stabbing was stopped by a Spanish family who flagged him down for help. Fernando, 40, said he was riding home through Russell Square when people asked him to stop and call for an ambulance.

“Call someone, call an ambulance,” he remembered them shouting. “There were three people stabbed. An older woman was slumping against the gates, and there was another two people. One of the Spanish family was comforting the older woman. I thought they were friends, but then I realised that they were just passing. No one knew each other.”

He added that he had not seen the attacker but said the Spanish family told police the man was covering his face as he made sweeping, stabbing motions.

“The moment the police arrived, they asked them if the man had been shouting,” Fernando said. “They said that he didn’t say anything. They said that when he stabbed the people he didn’t shout or scream anything.”

‘He was walking up and down the street’

Another guest at the President, Philippa Baglee, who was visiting London for a few days for her 60th birthday, described seeing a man in motorcycle clothing and a helmet near the scene.

“The bar of the President comes out on to the square. I just came down for a cigarette and saw there was a man with a motorbike helmet balanced on his head walking up and down, then the police came,” she said. “There was someone lying on the ground and lots of people around and a guy with a black motorcycle helmet balanced on top of his head walking around. He was on the outside of everyone looking on the ground.

Russell Square attack witness: 'I heard a woman screaming' Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Police forensic officers at work in Russell Square, central London, after the attack. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

“There were about six or seven people standing around. I thought there had been an accident, I had no idea anyone had been stabbed, I found out this morning. I was shocked. We just came to London for a couple of days for my birthday. I didn’t think about anything like this, I’m not a great worrier; on second thoughts, in the future …”

‘There was a body on the ground’

Alex Hall, 18, said he and his friends came out of a restaurant in Russell Square and saw police trying to resuscitate a woman.
“We were walking along and we saw three police cars and an ambulance. They were doing CPR on a woman lying on the ground,” he said. “We thought it must have been someone having a heart attack. The police were shouting at people to get back,” said Hall.”

Paul Ó Geibheannaigh, 45, a local resident, said he got to Russell Square 45 minutes after the incident. He described the mass police presence that had descended on central London.

“The first thing I saw was armed police, I knew there was something wrong,” he said. “I saw a body on the ground, covered, surrounded in dark matter which I presumed was blood. It was really busy and no one knew what was going on, until I went home and checked Twitter. I didn’t know at the time there had been other people injured.

“People were standing around talking, no one knew what had happened but there was a body on the street. People were shocked. This is a well-heeled area but there’s nothing you can do about it, if it happens it happens. If someone comes at you in the street with a knife there’s nothing armed police can do about it. You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Russell Square attack witness: 'I heard a woman screaming' Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Police officers guard the scene where one women died and several were injured. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

Paul Hutchinson, who witnessed the aftermath of the attack, told Sky News: “Russell Square was all taped off by armed police and there was a body on the floor. There were loads and loads of armed police, lots of police cars with lights on, a couple of ambulances and the body on the floor.”

Rehana Azam, 42, who was staying in a nearby hotel, told the Telegraph: “I was in my room on the seventh floor when I heard sirens outside. I looked out my window and thought somebody had collapsed and saw a paramedic performing CPR on the person on the ground.

“More and more emergency vehicles, including police cars and ambulances, arrived and I saw a number of people being treated. But then it became clear the person being treated for CPR had died as they put a blanket over them. I saw another person, who I think was a male, being taken into an ambulance on a stretcher. It was awful.”

‘There were too many police to count’

Helen Edwards, 33, who lives near Southampton Row, the street where the attack took place, said people in the capital live with the constant threat of terrorism or crime. “I just came out for a walk,” she said. “I arrived maybe an hour afterwards and saw a huge armed police presence, you couldn’t really tell what was going on. I came back later and police weren’t willing to divulge what happened but said we’d hear about it on the news, which is when I realised something big had happened.

“There were too many police to count. There was a load of armed police strategically placed guarding the cordon.

“I feel mixed, having lived in the local area for a long time I think back to the 7/7 attacks but we don’t really know what this guy’s motives were. By all accounts he sounds very unwell, this may just be a random tragic incident.

“It was a long time before I actually knew what had happened, and you can never tell with that kind of police presence if something has happened or there’s been an alert. And living in central London, there’s always something in the back of your mind, you live with the threat of terrorism or crime.”

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