BJW graduate and Sun reporter, Ben Leo, was the first journalist on the scene when three terrorists drove a van into people walking on London Bridge. The men then moved on to Borough Market where they carried out random stabbings before the police shot them dead. Ben has shared with BJW his memories of that night:
“I saw a young woman lying motionless on the steps to Southwark Cathedral with blood pouring from her throat. She must have been in her early 20s, head facing left while her body and legs slumped in completely the opposite direction. Her white top was spattered in bright red.
“In the utter chaos that was unfolding around her — sobbing people running around on mobile phones, screaming the names of friends and loved ones — she looked eerily peaceful as I stood staring at her, numb with shock.
“I quickly realised nobody was really trying to help her. Instead, people were leaping over her still body in sheer panic while trying to flee to safety — wherever that was.
“And then it hit me. The time for helping had passed. She must have been dead.
An incomprehensible end
“I turned left and spotted a man lying face down on the pavement just 100 yards along the road. His legs didn’t look right.
“For some reason twisted compared with the rest of his body. He was surrounded by three or four people. Judging by the frantic attention to his upper torso, I thought that whatever the issue with his legs must have been it was possibly the least of his problems.
“I counted four other bodies slightly further up the road, but felt my attention turn back to the young woman. I had never seen a dead body before, let alone one that appeared to have come to such an incomprehensible end.
“I suppose my mind was just trying to compute what my eyes were witnessing. Then I felt vomit making its way up my throat before forcing it back down. “Man up,” I told myself, as scores of people weaved their way in and around me.
Eloquence of evil
“Then I spotted a large white van nestled between traffic lights and a wall, its doors flung open as if people had jumped out the back after it crashed.
“Images of Westminster flashed crossed my mind. Close to the van, I approached a shocked Asian man in glasses at the south end of London Bridge. He looked pale, and his English wasn’t great, but the eloquence of evil knows no bounds. “Van! Van! Terrorist! Terrorist!”, he cried.
“Just as I snapped back into the reality of the nightmare, a swarm of police armed with MP5 submachine guns sprinted up. “Clear the area now! You need to run!” they bellowed.
“Within seconds, more police appeared to arrive from nowhere and raised the ante a little more. Amid the sound of whirling sirens and blinding blue lights, they let out a second more impactful cry: “F*****g move now! You all need to go.”
“Brave as they are, I could hear the fear in their voices.
Epicentre of terror
“We ran just as the sound of gunfire started. Two quick shots cracked out behind me as I joined a stampede of helpless and terrified revellers back down London Bridge Street.
“As I sprinted away from the danger, I turned to see police running towards it — down the cathedral steps and past the body of the woman.
“Their guns were poised, stocks in their shoulders and barrels facing upwards, their fingers on the triggers. “Just get out of the middle of the road,” I encouraged myself, before darting into the nearest building I could find.
“It turned out to be my office — the one I had so eagerly sprinted from ten minutes earlier in an attempt to get to what I thought was the aftermath of a serious incident. I couldn’t find my security pass in the panic.
“With two guards staring back at me and a group of other people from the inside, I frantically banged on the glass door for them to let us in. Within seconds they did, but it seemed like a hellish eternity.
“It soon hit me that in fact the real aftermath was still hours ahead. I had been at the epicentre of terror, with the armed killers still darting around Borough Market.
“I peered out the glass door to see yet more people fleeing along the street towards The Shard. Police soon followed, waving their arms frantically trying to get people away from the danger. Another group ran past carrying somebody on a stretcher, making their way into London Bridge station.
How do you prepare for horror?
“London was now a war zone. And this was the battlefield. Turning to look at the haunted faces of others who had taken refuge in the News Building, one girl begged me: “What the hell’s going on?”.
“I had no words for her, only a timid shake of the head. I tried to head back out of the office a few minutes later but the lock-in had started.
“Despite my pleas, I was roared at by a security guard and told to get as high up the building as possible. My next challenge was trying to put some of the horrific images behind me to help get out the next day’s paper.
“In the immediate aftermath I struggled to bury my emotions, regularly welling up as I typed furiously at my desk. This was the news – and there was no time, at least not then, for sentiment.
“I hadn’t expected to see what I saw that night when waking up for work early on Saturday morning. But even if I knew what was coming, how are you meant to prepare yourself for the absolute horror?
“My experience pales in comparison to that of the victims, our emergency service heroes and the great British public who we now know tried to fend off these killers.
“Yet it is something I will never forget, especially the haunting image of that poor woman at the steps of Southwark Cathedral. I hope she is in peace. We have a long way to go. We ran as the sound of gunfire started. How do you prepare for the horror?”