Station drama in the words of the police officers who dealt with incident
The four BTP officers who tackled Mahdi Mohamud at Victoria Station in Manchester on New Year’s Eve have told of the drama that unfolded.
Pc Ashleigh Williams, 27, from Bury, and Pc Marsha Selby, 28, from Manchester, were first on the scene along with two Metrolink tram staff, followed by Pc Tom Wright, 27, from Rossendale, and Sgt Lee Valentine, 31, from Manchester, who shot Mohamud but the Taser was ineffective and he was stabbed during the arrest of the suspect.
– You were anticipating a busy night with it being New Year’s Eve?
Sgt Valentine: “Yes, so we changed our shift to a later turn to basically assist, we were on a 6pm to 3am (instead of 2pm/11pm) pretty much to bolster the resources that were on duty. Trains stop at half past 10-ish, so our busy period is pre-New Year’s celebrations.”
– What first alerted you to something wrong?
Pc Williams: “Me and Marsha were patrolling the station, Lee and Tom were stood by the barriers.
“We were walking along in front of the shops where WH Smiths is, heard a scream, looked onto the Metrolink platforms and we thought there was a fight going on so kind of started running over towards it.
“As we got closer that’s when we saw the knife and realised it wasn’t a fight, it was a little bit more serious than that.”
– What could you see?
Pc Williams: “The suspect stabbing the other two people.”
– What was going through your mind?
Pc Selby: “I don’t really know to be honest, it was all very quick, we just knew we had to break them apart and stop what was happening.
“At the start until we get closer, from far away it just looked like a fight.
“Neither of us have Tasers.
“Ash pressed a radio to transmit for help and saw the knife. I (pepper) sprayed him, it did sort of catch him in the face but didn’t have any effect on him.
“Lee and Tom came around the corner and the two Metrolink staff arrived with us as well. It was pretty much all at the same time they arrived.”
Sgt Valentine: “We were at the barriers, I think we all heard the same scream. It was just like a scream I had never heard before, it was literally like someone was being killed.”
Pc Wright: “I racked my baton before we even got there because the sound of it, I just knew it wasn’t going to be a fight or something, it was very serious.”
Sgt Valentine: “We couldn’t see anything at first as me and Tom have come round, and as we have got to where the Metrolink tracks are there are a set of stairs, that lead up to the concourse, three or four stairs, it’s probably when I reach there, is when I have clocked this knife.
“So knowing these three didn’t have a Taser I got my Taser out straight away. When I got there, there was literally four yellow jackets blocking the platform as if to stop him coming through.
“You could just see him dancing around, waving this knife around, stepping towards us as if I’m going to sort of come towards you.
“The guidance they give is create space, utilise cover, but in that situation you can’t follow the exact stuff that’s pushed out, so it was containment pretty much with these guys, containment to where he is and prevent him from getting past to where there’s a lot of the public.
“Then I’ve come down, got past the guys and girls in the yellow jackets in the line, just gone in front so I can get a decent shot at tasering him.
“I think I’ve shouted twice for him to drop the knife, because at that point I didn’t know he had injured anybody, I couldn’t see anybody injured. I didn’t see the victims.
“He’s made another sharp movement to the side, at this point he’s been tasered that’s when I’ve shouted Taser.”
– What happened next?
Sgt Valentine: “It just didn’t work. He had a really thick coat on, like a bubble jacket, and the old style Tasers that we use, sometimes it’s ineffective if somebody is wearing a number of layers or a thick coat.
“The new style Tasers can go through more clothing.
“But because of the thickness of the coat it just didn’t.
“You have to aim for the most body mass so you go above and below the beltline, so ideally you want, one up here (motions to torso) and the other one because it drops, it usually gets the leg.
“But purely because of the coat and the length of the coat it didn’t basically get through, so the Taser was pretty much ineffective.”
– At which point you think?
Sgt Valentine: “What can I say? It was just, I’ve used my Taser once, and it worked perfect before that, so you sort of know what to look for and he didn’t react how he probably should’ve reacted if the Taser was successful.
“At which point I’ve sort of clocked that and sort of lowered the Taser in an attempt to change the cartridge because the old style Tasers you only had one shot per cartridge, so you take the top one off replace it with the one that’s on the handle, but that can take a couple of seconds.
“I didn’t even get the chance to take the fired cartridge off the top before he just started running towards me. He probably closed a seven foot gap in half a second.
“It was just like a dive, he flew, he probably jumped three or four foot off the ground and just sort of lunged, probably lunged at my head with his knife.
“He’s just gone for it, just charged towards me, within half a second he’s on top of me, so I think I’ve dropped my Taser as he was running towards me because it was pretty much useless, reached down as if to grab something else, realised he’s just come far too quick and sort of put my arms up above my head to stop him stabbing me in the head, managed to get him in a bit of a bear hug and his own momentum then has sort of took him over and I’ve just landed on top of him.”
– In the process you got stabbed in the top of the left shoulder?
Sgt Valentine: “Yeh, so as he’s lunged at me, he’s, this was all so quick, there was one that sort of did break the skin and left a bit of a mark.
“Looking at pictures afterwards it looks like he’s probably got three quick ones in.
“There was two that was literally like a little bullet point, if that, where the tip has literally made contact with the skin. But there was one that went through all layers of clothing.
“I had T-shirt, fleece, coat, padding of the coat, stab vest, we have a harness thing, it’s gone through all that.”
– It was a kitchen knife?
Sgt Valentine: “He had two knives on him, the one he actually used…the one he pulls out initially in his hand, is a fillet knife, long, thin.
“But the handle on it, is not a proper handle for doing that (stabbing) he’s got nothing to push against, so his hand’s slipped on the blade so he’s cut his own hand and I think because of that his blows weren’t as severe as they probably could have been if he had say a hunting knife, or something like that.”
– The other knife?
Pc Wright: “In his waist band. Like a kitchen knife, the width of the blade was a lot thicker. We wouldn’t find that until we got to the van, outside the station.”
– You are aware he had this document, Deadly Ways To Strike With A Knife?
Sgt Valentine: “To have something like that he’s obviously got some form of intent as to what he wanted to do that night. He’s had this document and he’s ended up stabbing people with knives.”
What’s it like running towards someone with a knife or being confronted by someone with a knife?
Pc Wright: “It sounds like a cliche but I think your training just takes you over. I don’t remember that few seconds. You do stuff without thinking.”
Pc Williams: “I think you just automatically do it and realise after that, that’s kind of everything you get taught to do.”
– Is he still about Allah and things like that?
Sgt Valentine: “He’s shouting all sorts. One of the things for me, obviously when I’ve landed on top of him being so close to his face to be literally like looking in his eyes and he’s like – there’s nothing there.
“It’s just like a complete, it’s…I don’t know, you can’t describe it, he just, he just wasn’t there.
“I think we’ve all dealt with people who have got certain issues, drugged up people, people who are really drunk, taken all sorts of stuff, but the look on his face when you are that close to him and you just see nothing there, it’s just…he’s shouting and he’s screaming and he’s sweating. “The look on his face, not even that of like a madmen just somebody who was just like intent on, he just wasn’t there.
“Like just, he just was not there, it was just like, it was just like an animal.”
Pc Wright: “He was just so fixated on what he was doing.”
Pc Williams: “Pouring with sweat wasn’t he? I don’t think he blinked, his eyes were wide open.”
– Most people would find that quite terrifying?
Sgt Valentine: “It doesn’t register.
“Nothing about that job, at that specific moment in time actually registered.
“And I think that’s why only months afterwards we’ve all had certain help and gone to speak to certain people and things actually start sinking in.
“Because at the time you are doing your job and you are doing it with what you’ve got and the people who are around you and you crack on and it ends, then you have your thinking time as to what, probably how much worse it could have been.”
– Do you feel lucky?
Sgt Valentine: “Yes. Massively. If I wouldn’t have put my hands up, I would say I would probably have got it in my head or my neck.”
Pc Wright: “I think we all said because Lee is quite tall, if it had been anyone else apart from Lee it could’ve been a lot worse.”
– What was it like seeing one of your colleagues stabbed?
Pc Wright: “I think I saw it first, I saw his jacket had been nicked, and yeah, it was horrible, I was trying to check his neck, because I had obviously seen, I thought there’s no way that that’s happened and he’s not been stabbed, because obviously saw the frenzy, whilst we were subduing him I was checking Lee’s neck.”
Sgt Valentine: “Obviously it’s adrenaline. I didn’t know, there was no pain whatsoever up until Tom came back and said, ‘Check yourself’. The girls were dealing with the two victims who were in a really bad way.
“I just remember taking all my kit off on that platform, took my Taser off and my belt, stab vest, then two people came from OSU (operational support unit) sort of like, took my T-shirt, yes it’s gone through, it’s gone through this layer, it’s gone through this layer, then it was like, ‘Yeh, you’ve been stabbed.’ “And that’s when you think, ‘shit’.”
– What happened next?
Sgt Valentine: “I went to hospital.”
– Your chief constable said it could have been more serious if you had not acted so quickly?
Pc Wright: “With the amount of people in town, it’s only a short walk away then he probably would’ve carried on.”
– Were any of you on duty when the bomb went off? Obviously with the location.
Sgt Valentine: “I think it’s symbolic for people who want to go out and do that sort of activity, you know it was a mass tragedy in Manchester and everybody in Manchester was affected and if somebody wanted to do something like, harm the public, it’s attractive for them to go and do it. Media, press there’s an association with really bad history there.”
– What do you think of the public support and messages afterwards?
Pc Wright: “Really nice. I think it sort of got us through, we had a period of about six weeks where we were all just really tired, just drained constantly and all this stuff was pouring in, it was just really nice to read.”
Pc Williams: “Work made us like a file with all the comments and things.”
Pc Selby: “A little old lady, she was about 80 odd and got the train into Manchester just to come and give us some nice messages.”
– Tell me about the commendations?
Sgt Valentine: “A chief constable’s commendation. Certificates. I think because of the way the case was it was very low key. It was involving a ceremony for all BTP officers who had done something that year. I think because it had to be quite low key because it was so much up in the air as to what was actually going on with the suspect himself.”
Pc Williams said the two Metrolink staff members also received commendations.
Sgt Valentine: “It was like having six police officers, purely because they didn’t shy away, they could easily have took a step back. But what they did was the biggest thing they could have done to help us and that was stand with these two (the first two officers on the scene) who were on their own, he’d just stabbed two people, they stood next to them and as soon as he ended up on the floor with me everyone swarmed in. So their actions were unreal.”
– Knowing that it was a terrorist attack, does that change things for you?
Pc Selby: “I think at the time of the incident we kind of just thought it was like any other job we had been to and it was only in the weeks and months after it that it affected us, I would say.”
Sgt Valentine: “We heard him obviously shouting certain things. For us obviously we were there and we heard it and the messages we shouted up on the radio was, ‘There’s been a multiple stabbing attack, can we have firearms?’
“This sort of incident is similar to things that have happened elsewhere so when he was on the floor, Tom was searching his waistband to see if there’s was any form of bomb there.
“So yeah, I suppose straight after, the way were thinking was, ‘This could be’ we need to treat it as if it is, check his waistband, get some firearms, is he a lone attacker or is there more than one attacker?’
“I think a lot of lessons are learned as each thing happens a lot of things are taken away from it as learning points, whether it be London Bridge, Parsons Green, the Manchester Arena.
“A lot of us think, ‘Do you know what, it probably won’t ever happen to me to be involved in something like this, but there is that chance it could happen, and it did.
“My injuries weren’t serious, the injuries to the couple were serious, but we’ve spoke to them since and they’ve bounced back from it.
“And I think the important thing for me is nobody died, no one, and that’s the key thing.”