An A-bomb in Wardour Street: Don't Panic! RICHARD LITTLEJOHN asks why people fleeing Oxford Circus found time to update their social media

Keep Calm and Carry On? There wasn’t a great deal of Blitz Spirit on parade in London on Friday when a Twitter-inspired mass panic broke out over an alleged terror attack.

Thousands of Christmas shoppers and commuters went into full headless chicken mode over reports of explosions and ‘shots fired’ at Oxford Circus Underground station. Scotland Yard’s 999 switchboard was swamped.

Police responded with commendable speed. Armed officers were on the scene in a heartbeat, helicopters hovered overhead and sirens wailed. Department stores, restaurants and pubs locked their doors as those fleeing the scene sought refuge.

Social media fed the confusion. At 5pm, a pop singer called Olly Murs tweeted his eight million followers: ‘Everyone get out of Selfridges now gun shots!! I’m inside.’

Eight minutes later, he updated his anxious fans: ‘Evacuating store now!!! F***ing heart is pounding.’

From his frantic tone it seems the store wasn’t the only thing he was evacuating. But Murs wasn’t alone. Even those running for their lives found time to reach for their mobile phones and update their status.

‘Guy with a gun on Oxford Street near Oxford Circus I’m in the middle of it. Currently taking cover in French Connection,’ posted another Twitter user, with 7,999,999 fewer followers than Olly Murs.

Within minutes, Facebook was alight with photographs of friends and relatives missing, presumed dead — the instant electronic equivalent of this column’s popular Portashrines.


By 5.39pm, however, police were able to reassure everyone that there was no evidence of any terrorist activity. And half an hour later, it was all over.

During last night's mass chaos people fled down Regent Street and looked fearful as the chaos began to unravel around Oxford Circus

Terrified shoppers flee from Oxford Street last Friday evening, over reports of gunshots ?

Everybody back on the Tube.

The Twitter storm had evaporated almost as quickly as it had erupted. Olly Murs was safe. Thank God, we were worried sick.

It turns out the catalyst was (might have been) a bad-tempered scuffle between two men on a Victoria Line platform — the sort of thing which happens on the Underground every day of the week, especially at rush-hour.

Both handed themselves in to police and neither was charged. Thankfully, apart from a few cuts and bruises, no one was hurt in the stampede. But someone could easily have been killed.

The cost in terms of lost business, wasted police time and human misery is incalculable. An ugly rumour, tweeted round the world in a millisecond brought chaos to the busiest shopping street in one of the world’s most bustling and prosperous capital cities.

Others were seen running away from yesterday's scene as police tried to confirm what was happening at the tourist hotspot

People were seen running away from Oxford Street in a panic last Friday, before police swooped in on London's most popular shopping hot spot

Look, I don’t blame anyone for legging it in the wake of the very real and devastating terror attacks in London at Borough Market, Westminster Bridge and elsewhere in the past year. Self-preservation and the herd instinct always kick in.

The police are to be congratulated, not criticised, for their exemplary response. Even though I have my reservations about the need for officers to hide their faces behind balaclavas, which only heighten the sense of terror, the speed with which they were on the scene in force was impressive.

The only thing missing was the press conference to announce that this was nothing to do with Islam.

What’s worrying is that a few wild tweets can create such mayhem. What if there had been a genuine emergency on the other side of London?

All it takes today is a false alarm to spark widespread panic. As Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope might have observed, this is The Way We Live Now.

The purpose of terrorism is to spread fear and despondency, and disrupt the way we go about our daily lives. In World War II, the German bombers were aided and abetted by Lord Haw-Haw’s wireless broadcasts, designed to frighten and unsettle the civilian population.

Last night: Crowds were seen running from Oxford Street after gunfire was reportedly heard in or around the Underground station

Crowds were seen running from Oxford Street after gunfire was reportedly heard on Friday

Today, the narcissists of social media perform the same function. Who needs Lord Haw-Haw when you’ve got Olly Murs? To be honest, I wouldn’t know Olly Murs from Ollie Beak, Pussy Cat Willum’s sidekick on Five O’Clock Club with Muriel Young, Wally Whyton and Bert Weedon — a teatime TV show from my childhood.

Why do eight million people feel the need to follow his every utterance? And why did he think it necessary to pour petrol on the flames of fear and chaos?

Is he really vain enough to believe that in the middle of a terror attack there are people who actually give a damn whether or not Olly Murs is trapped in Selfridges?

It’s not just celebrities, either. As I have observed frequently, everyone has to be in the movie.

What kind of imbecile takes time out of running for their life to post ‘currently taking cover in French Connection’ on the internet? Or rushes to put photographs of ‘missing’ friends and relatives on Facebook within a couple of minutes of hearing about a possible terror attack in the West End?

This is #MeToo gone mental.

Just as well Twitter wasn’t around in 1978 when The Jam brought out a single called A-Bomb In Wardour Street. Someone might have thought the IRA had acquired nuclear weapons and the streets of Soho would have resembled Pamplona during the bull run.

The BBC is currently showing a series about the effects of bombing during the Blitz. Contrary to accepted wisdom, it wasn’t all Keep Calm And Carry On, even though the threat from the skies was considerably more deadly than we face from the Islamist enemy within.

But just think how much worse it would have been if Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army had had a mobile phone and a Twitter account.

Don’t panic!

I know the Brexit negotiations aren’t going well, but who could have thought part of the deal would be that Prince Harry has to marry Mrs Merkel?

Maggie v Scargill... scrum on down?

Student unions seem to be competing with each other to see who can wear the most outrageous fancy dress outfits.

It’ll be some time before anyone beats the university rugby club in Norwich, where guests turned up dressed variously as members of the Ku Klux Klan; Gary Speed, the Welsh football manager who hanged himself; and Baby P, the tragic victim of the Haringey child abuse scandal.

Next to that little lot, you’d have thought a party themed along the lines of the 1984 miners’ strike would be fairly uncontentious.

Spitting Image puppet of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Spitting Image puppet of Arthur Scargill

?If the students attending the 1984 miners' strike themed event wore Arthur Scargill (right) and Margaret Thatcher (left) masks it would have been pretty spectacular

Those attending the Forwards v Backs event being held by the Trevelyan College rugby club at Durham University were asked to dress as police officers or pickets, with a few Falklands war heroes thrown in for historical authenticity.

But the party has been called off after complaints from the Durham Miners’ Association. The university authorities agreed, describing the event as deplorable and utterly unacceptable.

To the students, it must seem like ancient history, since the dispute was more than a decade before most of them were born.

But to Leftist academics, the miners’ strike epitomised the proletarian resistance to the hated Thatcher, and therefore anything which pokes fun at it is almost blasphemous.

Partygoers had been told to expect ‘a confrontation bigger than the Battle of Orgreave’ — a reference to the violence at the British Steel coking works in Yorkshire, where Arthur Scargill’s flying pickets clashed with mounted police.

Re-enacting that showdown with rugger buggers in Scargill and Thatcher masks would have been pretty spectacular.

Here we go, here we go, here we go!

Look out, that Girl Guide has a woggle?

In May 2013, shortly after she took over as chief executive of the Girl Guides, Julie Bentley promised to make the organisation more ‘diverse’ and ‘relevant’ to 21st-century Britain.

At the time, I wrote a column imagining where all this might lead. It took the form of a spoof newsletter, which began: ‘Girlguiding UK is an equal opportunities organisation, which does not discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

‘We particularly welcome applications from members of the transgendered, transsexual and intersex communities, who are currently under-represented.’ I should have known better. It’s always tempting fate to make jokes about such things.

This week, four-and-a-half years on, it has been announced that the guides will in future allow boys who identify as female to share sleeping quarters, showers and toilets with girls.

Julie Bentley said: ‘In line with our values of inclusion, we welcome any young person who self-identifies as a girl or young woman.’ I don’t know whether to file this news under You Couldn’t Make It Up or Here We Go Looby Loo.



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