Westminster terror attack was ’82 seconds of terrible drama’
Four members of the public and one police officer died in the attack in March 2017.
Lives were torn apart “by 82 seconds of high and terrible drama” in the Westminster terror attack, an inquest has heard.
Four members of the public and Pc Keith Palmer died on March 22 last year during a rampage by Khalid Masood.
In that time, Masood, 52, drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing American tourist Kurt Cochran, 54, retired window cleaner Leslie Rhodes, 75, Aysha Frade, 44, and Romanian tourist Andreea Cristea, 31.
He then stabbed Pc Palmer who was on guard at the Palace of Westminster.
On Monday, Chief Coroner Mark Lucraft QC began the inquests into the victims’ deaths in Court One of the Old Bailey.
He told the court: “The lives of many were torn apart by 82 seconds of high and terrible drama.”
The coroner went on to warn that some of the video footage shown in evidence will be “graphic and shocking”.
Continuing his opening remarks, he then asked the court to observe a minute’s silence for those who died.
Pen portraits of each of the victims were then read to the court, where relatives sat to listen to proceedings.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick was also present as the inquests began.
The first of the pen portraits was for music lover Mr Cochran, who died saving his wife Melissa’s life. She was too upset to pay tribute to her late husband in person, so her sister Angela Stoll read a statement on her behalf on what would have been the day after Mr Cochran’s 56th birthday.
“He was my best friend, my husband and my everything,” she said.
“I was so lucky to have had 25 wonderful years with the man of my dreams. He made me laugh every single day. I cherish every single memory we made.
“I am forever grateful for the time we had together, allowing me to be the mother to his children, and especially his heroic actions on that day, saving my life.”
She described her husband as “my inspiration, my rock star, and most of all my hero”, adding: “We wish everyone had Kurt’s love and compassion for others.
“No words will bring Kurt back or anyone else who has died senselessly in such cowardly attacks on humanity.”
The niece of retired window cleaner Leslie Rhodes told the inquest that the 75-year-old was “placid, quiet, and kind”.
Amanda Rhodes told how the family was “devastated” and “incredibly angry” on hearing of his death.
“Everyone loved him. He would do anything to help anyone who needed it,” she said.
Aysha Frade’s widower John told the court how he was immediately struck by her smile when they first met in 1996, describing it like the sun “popping out from behind a cloud”.
He said: “The truth is that she still doesn’t feel like she’s gone, her love surrounds us, her aura lights up the paths of life’s journey.”
Aysha and all the other victims of this tragedy are people and not just statistics or a name that will be forgotten once this inquest is over. Aysha Frade's sister Michelle
The mother of two had been “cruelly and brutally ripped away from us”, he said.
Her sister Michelle also read an emotionally charged statement to the hearing.
She said: “Aysha and all the other victims of this tragedy are people and not just statistics or a name that will be forgotten once this inquest is over.”
A video recording was played to the court paying tribute to Romanian tourist Andreea Cristea, on what would have been her 33rd birthday.
She died from her injuries after she was thrown into the Thames as she walked across Westminster Bridge with her boyfriend, Andrei Burnaz.
Her family, some of whom followed proceedings from the British Embassy in Bucharest, described her as a “lovely, enchanting and life-loving” woman, who had a thriving interior design business.
She had written a tragic note on her final New Year’s Eve, in which she told of her hopes for the coming year, which she said “will be the best of my life”.
“I will have a wonderful man by my side, who will love and cherish me and with this man I will start a wonderful family,” the note said.
Her family said they had been “hoping for a miracle” when she was in hospital following the attack and told of their “heartbreakingly sad” loss when she died two weeks later.
Family and colleagues of Pc Keith Palmer paid tribute to the “brave” officer who gave his life to protect others.His sister Angela said: “Keith died protecting strangers whilst doing his job and he will be remembered by many for his courage and bravery.”
His friend Pc Shaun Cartwright described the happy, honest and genuine family man who worked to provide for his wife and daughter.
Chief Inspector Neil Sawyer said the constable had made the “ultimate sacrifice”.
He said: “His brave actions that day did not surprise me. Keith never backed away from a job protecting people.”
Detective Superintendent John Crossley then went through how each of the victims was fatally injured.
Masood mounted the pavement at 14:40:08 and within 30 seconds hit the four civilian victims and crashed into railings at the perimeter gates of the Palace of Westminster.
Mr Cochran acted with “instinctive courage” when he pushed his wife out of the path of the hired Hyundai Tuscon driven by Masood, the court heard. He was thrown into the air and was fatally injured, dying at the scene.
Mr Rhodes was dragged 33 metres under the car, and was taken to Kings College Hospital but never regained consciousness. He died the next day from head injuries.
Mrs Frade was hit by the car from behind and thrown into a bus lane, where she was run over by a bus and died from a “catastrophic” head injury.
Images were shown of what happened, with the court warned that they were distressing.
Miss Cristea was thrown off Westminster Bridge, falling 12.5 metres into the Thames. She was in the water for nearly nine minutes before she was recovered.
The inquest heard that the Romanian tourist, who had been walking over the bridge with her boyfriend Andrei Burnaz towards the London Eye, was given “intensive and complex” treatment at the Royal London and St Bartholomew’s hospitals but never regained consciousness and died on April 6 when her life support was switched off.
Her cause of death was multiple organ failure, head injuries and immersion.
After mowing down the pedestrians, Masood got out of his car and became involved in a violent struggle with Pc Palmer, who stumbled and fell backwards.
An image was shown to the court taken from an upper window of Portcullis House, in which the prone officer’s legs could be seen in the air, as Masood approached him.
Pc Palmer was stabbed, but managed to escape when Masood was distracted by two other officers.
He ran a short distance but collapsed, and despite receiving first aid from the public, the police and treatment from paramedic and air ambulance crews, died at the scene.
Masood was then challenged by an armed close protection officer, who shot him three times when he failed to drop the two knives in his hands.
The court was shown an animation of Masood’s deadly journey based on a 3D laser scan data from the scene.
It showed the exact location where each victim was struck on Westminster Bridge.
Masood’s hire car was going at an average of 31mph as it mounted the pavement on its erratic route, finally crashing into the palace railing.
Coroner Lucraft warned family members of “graphic” CCTV footage before it was shown in court.
Distressing video from a bus showed the moment Ms Frade was mowed down on the pavement and thrown into the air.
Other footage recorded Ms Cristea being thrown over the balustrade.
Masood’s rampage across Westminster bridge was described in court as an act of “indiscriminate” barbarity and inhumanity.
Gareth Patterson QC, who represents three grieving families, said the images showed Masood was “deliberately targeting pedestrians”.
He said it appeared people were being hit like “human bowling pins” and “thrown in the air like rag dolls”.
He said witnesses had described “the noise and the repeated thuds and bangs of the impact”.
Questioning Mr Crossley, he said “The driver Masood behind the wheel would have seen and heard every impact as he drove over the bridge.
“And so is it right your assessment when you stand back and look at the gravity of what happened, there is no getting away from the barbarity of what happened and the inhumanity of what took place.”
Mr Crossley agreed.
Mr Patterson added: “This was terrorism of an indiscriminate type and whatever he though about the values of democracy, it was those values of democracy that led police officers to try to save his life at the end of this.”