By Tracy Philips
ON WEDNESDAY afternoon, a friend forwarded a text message from her daughter, who was doing some volunteer work at a local primary school in Woolwich. The message read, “ Shooting outside school. Gunman outside. Had to lock the children in. Scared. Everyone crying including teacher.” This was the first I knew about the horrific killing of a soldier, Lee Rigby, on a street in Woolwich, a few minutes walk from my flat. Then I heard the helicopters overhead and switched on the news.
The video of Michael Adebolajo talking to the camera with blood soaked hands, wielding a knife and a meat cleaver, was truly shocking. What struck me most, as he spoke to the camera, was his message that he was sorry that “women had to see this today but in our lands our women have to see the same.” Where was he talking about? He spoke with a London accent and looked like any other bloke you might see in Woolwich any day of the week. He was known to have preached the ideas of radical Islam on the streets of Woolwich. I’ve walked past people in Woolwich doing the same. Maybe I’ve walked past him. He felt the need to apologise only to women for what they witnessed on Wednesday. This is not the language of someone who respects women as equals. How ironic, given that the only positive part of this appalling tale is the role of the women who showed such incredible courage on that day.
Clearly ordinary residents were not the target, and women in particular were probably safe. One woman pulling a shopping trolley is seen, in the video, walking past Adebolajo, so close that she could touch him. She appears oblivious to any danger. Did she not notice what was going on? Maybe she thought it was just a normal day in Woolwich? Perhaps she didn’t see the dead man lying in the street, the knives, the gun. Maybe she didn’t see the blood. It was certainly not a normal day in Woolwich, but sometimes strange things do happen here. Greenwich is a very diverse London borough with nearly 250,000 residents, well over 100 languages spoken, high levels of deprivation in parts and much affluence in others. The crime rate is below the national average, but anyone who walks through Woolwich on a regular basis, knows that it has more than its fair share of low level street crime and bizarre behaviour.
Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a former teacher was on the 53 bus on her way to visit her son, who lives locally. She got off the bus to offer her help as a first aider. She confronted one of the two suspected killers. She did exactly what I always tell my children not to do if confronted by mad or criminal behaviour. She looked him in the eye, asked him questions, tried to get him to drop his weapons and stay calm; she wanted to protect the other mothers and children around her. Another woman is seen in the video leaning over the soldier’s body, praying. Gemini Donelly-Martin and her mother Amanda asked if they could comfort the dead man. What motivated these women to step in and help? Ingrid’s son talked about her “incredible maternal instincts” and Amanda’s son said, “she told me she only did it because she thought it could have been her own son.”
As events unfolded, and the full horror became clear, the response has been strong. Muslim organisations have been quick to condemn the murder as “barbaric” and “un-Islamic”. Julie Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Britain said, “The people who did this act do not speak in my name, do not speak for my community or the rest of the country.” We have seen all sections of the local community come together with messages of support for the family of the soldier who survived Afghanistan, and served in Cyprus and Germany before being killed outside his barracks in London. Boris Johnson and David Cameron have been to Woolwich in the last few days, which probably won’t happen again for a long time. Many, many women have laid flowers outside the Woolwich Barracks for a man they did not know. I wonder how I would have reacted if I had been near the barracks when the attack happened. I can never know. But I have nothing but admiration for the women who stepped in and tried to help.
By Tracy Philips