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London terror: MP Donaldson forced to take cover just yards away from knifeman

By Cate McCurry

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was forced to dive for cover after he was caught up in yesterday's terrorist attack in the grounds of the Houses of Parliament.

The Lagan Valley MP was only yards from where an intruder carrying a knife broke into the grounds and stabbed a police officer before he was shot and injured.

Mr Donaldson praised the swift actions of police who ordered the DUP politician and other MPs to lie on the ground after a loud bang was heard close to where they were walking.

The attacker mowed down pedestrians as he drove a 4x4 car across Westminster Bridge before crashing it into railings, then running through the gates of the Palace of Westminster and stabbing the officer.

At least five people died.

"I was with a group of MPs walking into the Houses of Parliament to vote when a loud bang came from the direction of the main gates," he said.

"We were told to get to the ground by the police.

"We did so, then a few moments later we were ushered into the building to safety.

"I have to say the police reacted instantly and very professionally, and as a result of that brought the situation under control very quickly.

"I saw the police officer and the people who were attending to him. It was devastating."

He was later evacuated from the building and told to stay within the grounds of Westminster Abbey as the massive security operation got under way.

Mr Donaldson said having experienced paramilitarism in Northern Ireland, the attack had "the hallmarks" of a terrorist-related incident.

"I have been in Belfast when bombs went off and you never get used to the actions of terrorists. The clear message from us here is one of defiance," he added last night.

"We are being kept in a yard inside the parliamentary complex and the building is being evacuated.

"We are awaiting further instruction from the police.

"There is a heavily armed police presence with police helicopters overhead.

"When it first happened, people were confused as to what was going on but everyone was very disciplined and followed the direction of police."

South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said she had been in "lockdown" for three hours in the House of Commons as the tragedy unfolded.

"My sympathies go to those who have lost their lives and the victims who have been severely injured," she stated.

"It happened at 2.40pm, the division bells had just rang, we went to vote and there was due to be another vote.

"As we were waiting for the result of the first vote, the door shut.

"I tried to open it, but the Deputy Speaker told us we were in lockdown.

"We were probably more safe than anyone else, when you think of the number of people who use the Commons. I never want to go through that again."

She added later: "The events at Westminster today are a tragic reminder of the threat that police officers and public representatives face simply for doing their jobs.

"My thoughts and prayers are first and foremost with the victims of this attack. Many are injured and a number have already lost their lives. A tragedy has unfolded here today."

Ulster Unionist MPs Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan were also caught up in yesterday's terror attack.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Mr Elliott was speaking from inside Westminster after the lockdown. He said: "Westminster has been shocked by today's events in which a number of people were mown down by a vehicle on Westminster Bridge and a man armed with a knife later entered Old Palace Yard and attacked a police officer.

"These incidents are obviously very concerning indeed, coming as they do on the first anniversary of the Brussels' terror attacks."

South Antrim MP Mr Kinahan said that the attack was a reminder of the threat facing democratic societies.

"This is a reminder of the debt of gratitude we owe to the police and the security services who risk their lives every day to protect us all," he said.

"My thoughts are with all those who have been injured."

DUP colleagues Sammy Wilson and Nigel Dodds were in the House of Commons when MPs were ordered to stay in the chamber after proceedings were halted.

East Antrim representative Mr Wilson said MPs were voting when the Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle made the announcement. He said: "We were in the middle of a vote and the first thing the Speaker said was that he was suspending the sitting and then the doors were all locked. Two or three minutes later people were picking it up on Twitter that there had been a shooting outside.

"We were told that the doors of the chamber were being locked, we couldn't leave and that police were searching the building.

"They are escorting staff and visitors out of the building. The atmosphere is all very subdued."

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