A Personal Account
By Albert Owen MP/AS, Ynys Môn
Wednesday 22nd March was to be just another busy day in Parliament, but the events that unfolded were far from ordinary. The horrific events on Westminster Bridge and in Parliament itself has shaken our country and beyond, with the tragic loss of life and injuries to innocent men, women and children.
I begin my account by adding my thanks to our brilliant Police, Security and Emergency Services for their brave actions. In addition to them, the staff and internal security teams in Parliament, many of whom I have got to know over the years.
I have the honour to serve in Parliament, to me there is no greater privilege than to serve your local community. The Palace of Westminster is a renowned and iconic symbol of democracy throughout the world. Above all, it is the people that make a democracy, who send MPs to Parliament and who work in the institution itself.
Just months after I was first being elected to Parliament, the world changed with the 9/11 attacks. Security measures in Parliament and many of our public buildings were increased to include armed police and screening of the public as they access Parliament.
I was a member of an in-House committee that discussed these measures and how in a modern democracy we could balance an open and free Parliament with the threat of a terror attack. It is never easy, but over 15 years Parliament has got the balance right under a severe threat.
On Wednesday I went to work as normal, said hello to the police as I entered the building, many have been there for years, we joke about the rugby, the football and the weather. They are the salt of the earth. Tony Benn once told me that the Parliamentary staff are the most of people, Prime Ministers and MPs come and go, but it is the professionalism of the staff that keep the place going. Wise and true words.
I met my assistant Ieuan to go through my diary for the day, this included meeting with constituents for a small tour, it is always great to host local people. It was Prime Minister's Questions day as well, so the Palace of Westminster fills up quickly. After a full morning I met up with my guests and watched the Speakers procession. Pomp and ceremony like no other.
I arranged for tickets for our guests to go into the gallery and said my goodbyes. After a late lunch I attended the weekly Labour Parliamentary committee, at 2.30 there was a vote, so our meeting adjourned and I made my way to the voting lobby alongside the House of Commons chamber.
As I made my way back a doorkeeper politely told me I couldn't return, there had been an incident. Along with colleagues I went to the members’ tearoom. I phoned Ieuan to inform him and check if he was ok.
I was told the Leader of the House was to make a statement, I went back to the chamber but it had gone into lockdown, I went back to the tea room to watch events on the TV. By now there was noise and shouting by special units combing the building.
They entered the tea room and marched me and some 60 MPs out and escorted us to a safe space. The sight of so many top armed units was alarming. They were decisive, polite and along with staff and the public we were taken to Speaker’s Court and were kept informed. Rumours suggested a second terrorist was in the building. No risks were taken. In the speaker’s court we were joined by school children and the atmosphere was relaxed as events were unfolding.
I checked with Ieuan who had now been moved out to a safe building in the Northern Estate. Our office overlooks Westminster Bridge, he had seen the emergency services attending the scene on the Bridge.
We were then moved to Westminster Hall and out to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. There was well over a thousand of us. It was cordial and we had tea and biscuits during our 4-5 hour stay.
Social media kept us updated, rumours and innuendo, as well as real news. It was surreal, but I knew we were in less danger than many others. Ieuan was let out before me and was safe, modern mobiles meant we had contact. My family, friends and members of the public contacted. I thank them all.
The Police, Emergency Services and Special Units were superb. About 10,000 people work in the Palace of Westminster plus the public, it was a major event. It was handled in the most professional manner.
That evening I went out with colleagues and kept in touch with family and friends. I was pleased that Parliament was to resume the next day to pay tribute and respects to those killed or injured. I turned down media requests for interviews as events were still unfolding and the dead and injured were unknown. I have waited 48 hours before issuing this statement and description out of respect. I did use social media to pay my respects to PC Keith Palmer, a real hero doing his job of defending us all and defending democracy itself, and to those injured on the bridge.
London returned to something near normal as soon as possible. The events showed the risks, but united us all and it amazingly showed the true spirit of our country.
I was shaken, not because of what I saw, but just as I was when Jo Cox was murdered. The shock that those going about their jobs, or just visiting as tourists, could be victims of terror on our streets and in our democratic institutions.
That is a risk that will never be fully eliminated, but it can be reduced. I have now returned home and have a full weekend and plan to return to Parliament on Monday because democracy will go on and will win over terror every time.
The country has, and will always, bounce back. We will remember the bravery shown on March 22nd, and the tragedy of the loss of lives of people from across the world.
Finally, a big thank you to all for the kind messages. On my return to Parliament I will sign a book of remembrance on behalf the people of Anglesey in respect of all those who suffered on that day.