London Bridge attack victim’s girlfriend slams failings of authorities
The girlfriend of a London Bridge victim has blamed authorities for a catalogue of “staggering” failings in the lead up to the attack.
But Christine Delcros, whose boyfriend Xavier Thomas was struck on the bridge, said of the three terrorists: “They tried in vain to extinguish our joy, our hope, our love. But in the end, they failed.”
Ms Delcros, who was also injured in the attack, spoke out as Chief Coroner Mark Lucraft QC concluded the eight victims were unlawfully killed on June 3 2017.
The inquest heard how former London Underground worker Khuram Butt, 27, hired the Hertz van which ploughed into pedestrians on the bridge, killing Frenchman Mr Thomas, 45, and Canadian Chrissy Archibald, 30.
Mr Thomas, a father-of-two, was catapulted into the river Thames and found dead three days later.
The van crashed into railings and Butt, Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, ran amok around Borough Market with knives strapped to their wrists and fake suicide belts.
They set upon Sara Zelenak, 21, who had fallen over in her high heels then turned on James McMullan, 32, as he tried to help her up.
Nurse Kirsty Boden, 28, was stabbed after she went to the aid of French musician Alexandre Pigeard, 26, outside the Boro Bistro.
The killers also attacked Sebastien Belanger, 36, and Ignacio Echeverria, 39, who was fatally injured as he bravely fended off the attackers with his skateboard.
The rampage which left eight dead and 48 seriously injured was over in just under 10 minutes when the terrorists were shot dead by police marksmen.
The inquest has heard how barriers to protect pedestrians on the bridge, were not installed in the wake of the Westminster Bridge attack three months before.
And police and MI5 failed to recognise the threat posed by ringleader Butt, who associated with Islamic State fanatic Anjem Choudary, appeared in the documentary The Jihadi Next Door and was able to teach the Koran at a primary school.
Before the attack, Butt had been under investigation yet authorities failed to pass on tip offs about his extremism, including one from a family member.
In an emotional statement, Ms Delcros highlighted a “catalogue of failings”, saying: “I believe this attack was preventable.”
She said: “The absence of necessary preventative measures on the bridge, despite repeated, urgent warnings about the risk to pedestrians on the bridge from experts who knew the risks to the public; and imperfect communication between authorities meant that opportunities to identify all the attackers and disrupt their activities did not occur.
“I find it staggering that Butt, a well-known extremist was allowed to work within the London Transport network, to have access to and teach young children, and to rent and use a vehicle in a manner now too often encountered.
“I am dismayed SO15 (counter terrorism police) did not pass this critical information to any of his employers.
“It also adds to our distress to know that the search for Xavier immediately after the attack was so brief – it lasted only 47 minutes.”
She also paid tribute to the “love and compassion” of the people who came to the rescue on the night, many risking their lives.
Mr Thomas’ parents added: “It seems to us that a number of elements in the behaviour and demeanour of the terrorists failed to be picked up, although at least one of the attackers had been on MI5’s radar for a very long time, and there had clearly been many opportunities to link him to both other accomplices, we believe opportunities that were missed and lost.”
In a statement, Ms Archibald’s parents Greg and Barbara spoke of their hopes that the coroner would recommend “appropriate measures be introduced so that MI5 is notified when a vehicle is rented by a person on their watch list.”
They said: “Such a protocol might have prevented the death of Chrissy and others.”
In his conclusions, Mr Lucraft noted extraordinary acts of bravery as police officers, medics and members of the public rushed in to help in spite of the danger.
Pc Charlie Guenigault was off duty when he took on the three terrorists with British Transport Police Pc Wayne Marques and Spanish banker Mr Echeverria.
In an interview, he said: “In my head I just see all three of them standing in front of me, knives in hand and fake vests on and that look of, ‘We’re going to kill you’, basically that sort of anger in their eyes.
“When I got stabbed in the head it sounded like an explosion. It just felt like someone had punched me in the face with a massive fist. It didn’t hurt much. I could definitely feel it going into the skin, going into the bone. It was painful afterwards of course.”
Pc Guenigault, 27, who was awarded the George Medal, said he “played dead” and waited for the next blow which never came then resolved to “fight with everything I’ve got to stay alive”.
He added: “At the inquest… people want to find blame for why such things happened – there are only three people to blame.”
Patrick Maguire, from Slater and Gordon, representing Mr Thomas’s family, said: “On 3rd June 2017, eight people lost their lives in an evil and barbaric attack by three terrorists, who were hellbent on a mindless and indiscriminate attack in the heart of the City of London.
“This tragedy is all the more devastating for my clients knowing this atrocity could and should have been prevented.
“Two separate calls were made to the authorities, to the anti-terrorism hotline and one to MI5 directly, about Butt’s extremism, but these were not provided to the teams investigating Butt.”
Helen Boniface, of Hogan Lovells, who represents six of the bereaved families, said: “The absence of barriers on London Bridge is an extremely important issue to all families we represent. This was clearly planned as a two-stage attack – had barriers been in place on London Bridge, they firmly believe this attack would not have taken place here at all and their loved ones would still be here today.
“The cumulative weight of intelligence known to MI5 and the police prior to the attack concerns the families that we represent. Kharum Butt was known to the authorities to be a dangerous person and it remains alarming that someone under active investigation can plan and perpetrate a terrorist attack.”
She said there were “missed opportunities” to link the three terrorists who trained at the same gym.