Witnesses believe a fight on a platform at Oxford Circus tube station spread panic, leading to stampedes and rumours of gunshots, forcing police to trigger their protocol for terror attacks.
British Transport Police have appealed for information after what they described as an “altercation between two men on the platform” at Oxford Circus station. They released CCTV images of two men they would like to talk to in relation to the incident.
Screaming crowds were ordered to take shelter in shops as the station was evacuated at the start of Friday’s rush hour, but investigations have not yet found any evidence of gunfire or casualties.
The British Transport Police (BTP) said its officers received reports of shots fired on the westbound Central Line platform at Oxford Circus at 4.37pm, as passengers fled up exits towards Oxford Circus and Regent Street.
“This caused a significant level of panic which resulted in numerous calls from members of the public reporting gunfire,” a spokesperson said.
“Officers responded in line with our procedures of a terrorist incident, this included armed officers from BTP and the Metropolitan Police.
“A full and methodical search of the station and Oxford Street was conducted by our specially trained firearms officers but they did not find any evidence of gunfire at the station.”
Oxford Circus Incident – In pictures
As the cause of the alert remained unconfirmed, several high-profile figures were condemned for spreading incorrect information on social media.
Former EDL leader Tommy Robinson deleted a tweet on “what looks like another jihad attack”, while singer Olly Murs reported baseless rumours of gunshots inside Selfridges while it was being evacuated as a precaution, and Sky News presenter Kay Burley repeated false claims of a “man with a gun”.
Passengers on the platform at the time claimed the panic was started by a fight between two men, describing how the evacuation order was prompted by a member of the public pushing an emergency button.
Regan Warner said she saw a man bumping into another man on the “overcrowded platform” at 4.35pm.
“They exchanged words, then a punch to the gut, then a full-out fight,” she added.
“People were trying to break it up, there was lots of yelling. People were running away, a woman fainted, children were scared and crying.
“The emergency button was pressed. The fight was broken up and the parties walked in opposite directions.”
She jumped on a departing Tube train, hearing an announcement being given out over the station announcement system ordering a full evacuation as it departed.
The Met responded to the incident as though it was a full-blown terror attack (AFP/Getty)
Ms Warner’s account was echoed by a Twitter user called Annabel, who described how “crying and screaming” around the fight spread panic, which was compounded by thousands of people fleeing to street level.
“It turned into a stampede in rush hour on Black Friday … Terrifying the street and then rumours as usual spread, and caused even more fear,” she wrote.
Another witness, Lysi P, said mass panic started after the evacuation announcement went out, adding: “As the speakers went off I saw everyone run from the platform – therefore I can only assume that people panicked.”
Ryan Butcher, a reporter for The Independent who was in another part of the station at the time, said the announcement told everyone to evacuate because of “a reported emergency”.