The official timeline of events of 22nd May 2013 in Woolwich, as reckoned by the authorities, will be supplied in the next chapter. Firstly, there will be a chance for the reader to establish a foothold on the facts as they appear to be; the following is an abstract level account of the incident.
Between 1 and 2 o’clock in the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd May, 2013, a purple-blue Vauxhall Tigra with blacked out rear windows drove across the junction with John Wilson Street from Wellington Street into Artillery Place. The driver was one Michael Adebolajo, and his passenger was Michael Adebowale. They were recent converts to Islam – or rather that should be Islamism – and they were looking to do their bit in what they thought was a jihad against Britain; they wanted to kill a British soldier in retaliation for what they perceived as British aggression in Muslim lands.
At the same time as the Tigra was crossing the junction, Lee Rigby was crossing Artillery Place from the south side to the north side. He had come from Wellington Place after arriving into Woolwich on the underground train, which is in the vicinity. He had made a fateful decision to go to the shop at the Queen Victoria before returning home. As he got to the centre of the northern lane that heads down hill, Adebolajo had by that time crossed the central reservation of Artillery Place, and was about to plough the car into the soldier.
Seconds later, the car had mounted the northern kerb of Artillery Place, after having struck Lee Rigby and in some fashion propelled him forward. This impact was at a point somewhere beyond the crossing railings and near the lamp post. It manoeuvred past the lamp post and swerved to end up hitting the stanchion of the road sign at the top end of Artillery Place. Lee Rigby was deposited in the space generally to the north and to the west of this, perhaps lying against the wall. The two assailants then disembarked armed with knives. Adebolajo went to work on Lee Rigby’s neck, while Adebowale used his weapon on Lee Rigby’s lower abdomen.
Various passing drivers had by now stopped their vehicles to look at the goings-on; some had been witnesses to the first impact with Lee Rigby. Other people saw the events from where they were standing outside the shop. Apparently, Adebolajo thought it too much attention, and produced a hand gun to wave in the air and ward people off. This had the desired effect, and people kept their distance. Now the attackers put Lee Rigby’s body in the road, and this caused some witnesses, women, to approach the body. The assailants seemed to have more tolerance for females, and did not view them as combatants – thus they were allowed to attend. Around about the same time, a white lorry stopped as it was passing Rectory Place, and a Number 53 bus stopped as it was climbing Artillery Place. No reason was transmitted to the public for why the bus stopped where it did. Indeed, there should have been no reason for it to. Lee Rigby wasn’t in the lane used by the bus – he was dumped in the northern lane. Although the driver of the lorry was said to have abandoned his vehicle to flee in terror, the driver of this bus remained at the wheel of his throughout the incident, and could have continued up the road to take his passengers out of harm’s way (the extent to which this could be done remains debatable, as will be revealed).
As it had come to a halt, however, one passenger, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, disembarked from the bus to join mother and daughter Amanda and Gemini Donnelly, and another woman, who would for a long time remain unnamed, around the body of Lee Rigby. Later, this fourth woman would be named as Vikki Cave, and the corporate-media would also tell of a fifth ‘Woolwich Angel’, Tina Nimmo who was also seen in the footage being close at hand to the incident. It is said that these women engaged the attackers in conversation, although video footage publically available does not show Nimmo being close enough to be able to do this. By this time, other people started to gather at the foot of Artillery Place and at the top on the pavement outside the shop and on the western side of the barracks’ access opening.
Unarmed police were also on the scene fairly early on, but were keeping a low profile and not making themselves visible to the attackers. It would be later explained that they were concerned that Adebolajo and Adebowale could have been suicide bombers whose main attack would be on the security services that came to deal with them. The situation remained like this for an amount of time and there was a lot of confusion about initially; it was a lull in between moments of high drama in which Adebolajo and Adebowale shuffled around the pavement close by the Tigra, sometimes conversing with the women on scene. Eventually, Adebolajo approached some people who had got off the bus and were standing by its open doors. It was here that he was filmed making a speech about his jihad in which he seemingly admitted killing a British soldier.
It was at the conclusion of this oration when the bus started reversing, or at least rolling backwards, down Artillery Place. Adebolajo returned to his station by the Tigra, and in only a matter of seconds later, an Armed Response Vehicle of the Metropolitan Police swooped up Artillery Place and came to a halt where the back of the bus had just been. Adebolajo reacted by charging at the car; Adebowale, now in possession of the gun, lumbered along the pavement with his gun arm raised. Both were shot in response, although there was scant official detail initially regarding how exactly, and were given first aid by the arresting officers. The situation having been made safe, several paramedics arrived by road in various vehicles, and unarmed police moved in to shoo the crowds away from top and bottom of Artillery Place. London Air Ambulance arrived shortly after that and one of the perpetrators was loaded on board the helicopter, the other put on a road vehicle, and both taken to hospital to recuperate under armed guard.
It is worth noting that as far as the publically available footage shows, none of the paramedics that arrived seemed to attend to Lee Rigby, and he remained in the road – although he was at some point covered in a blanket during the first locking down of the scene. Later a forensics tent was placed over him, and he was probably extracted from the scene under the cover of darkness that same night. Artillery Place was closed down and cordoned off soon after the incident, as were other surrounding roads, and the area became a crime scene with police conducting finger-tip searches in the in the car park of and the green bordering Elliston House – and very likely in other places within the cordons that we don’t know about. Plastic bags were taped over the tarmac to preserve evidence – all of this was captured by overhead helicopter TV news cameras as stations reported the aftermath of the attack, and political reaction. The word ‘Terrorism’ was introduced very quickly, amongst accusations that Adebolajo and Adebowale had beheaded Lee Rigby. Iraqi-style jihad had arrived on British streets.