‘This sitting is now suspended.’
These words from the Deputy Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, were the first indication that something was wrong in Parliament. They came during a division, a vote in Parliamentary terms.
I had just hurried back from a meeting a few blocks from Parliament and must have missed the attack by about four minutes. What then followed was for me, not a lot. We were sealed in the Chamber and what is called the Members Lobby while police and others ran around checking to see if the attacker had any accomplices in the building.
At one point a man in civilian clothes, body armour and a ski mask carrying an automatic weapon ran up to one of the doors to the Members Lobby. Finding it locked he splintered the door plate with one kick. Later I asked one of the badged messengers (usually ex-military types who manage and protect the workings of Parliament), about this and he replied, ‘all he had to do was knock’.
I was much more worried about my PA, Michele, and researcher, Alasdair, who witnessed most of the horrors on Westminster Bridge from my office in Portcullis House. They were instructed to lock themselves in.
Later they were evacuated into the Noman Shaw North building where they were stuck until 7.30pm with not so much as a Twix bar for sustenance. Michele got home very late and, with Alasdair, defied my orders not to come in the next day.
The following day started as usual with prayers in the Chamber. Our Chaplain, Rose, broke from the usual text to lead us in the 23rd Psalm. The mood here was sombre but defiant.
I spoke to one of the heroes of the hour, my fellow Royal Green Jacket Tobias Ellwood. He said that they had a pulse on the police officer for about 10 minutes. He was giving CPR when a doctor arrived. After working hard with the doctor to keep the officer alive Tobias said to the doctor, ‘tell me if you think this is doing any good’ and got the reply, ‘no, you can stop now’.
The 24-hour news agenda has started to grate: ‘People are asking how this secure building’s perimeter could be breached.’ The man got 20 yards before he was shot dead.
The building is accessed by thousands every week who come as tourists or constituents or special interest groups to see a working Parliament. If we stop it being just that, the bad guys have surely won.
Sky News had the strap line, ‘How will London recover?’ Absurd.
The Prime Minister got the tone right when she said that the country was showing anyone who thought well of the vile perpetrator of this crime that they would never win because we were going about our everyday existence; going to work, visiting cafes and coffee shops. Being normal.
And being normal is to treat with contempt pathetic attempts in some parts of the media to find someone to blame. There is only one person to blame and he was a low-life criminal who had been in prison for other violent offences. He was no soldier of Islam. He was a depraved loner, a failure. It somehow dignifies him to call him a terrorist.
The Intelligence and Security Committee on which I sit, will be looking at this incident, as will every other organisation charged with keeping us safe. But for now the best thing we can do is in the words of the wartime poster, ‘Keep calm and carry on’.