7. Witness statements should be corroborated by other witnesses and by the video evidence which documents their presence on the scene
This section gets a bit thick with detail, so the reader might be well advised to refer to a table of times for events that is produced at the end while progressing through.
One of the key statements by a witness that helps our understanding is the one by John Power in which he claims that Adebowale got out of the Tigra 4 or 5 seconds after Adebolajo had started attacking Rigby. In any case, this is what we must conclude he is saying. Here is the relevant testimony:
[Adebolajo] stood by [Rigby’s] head. His right hand was chopping at the man’s head with a small chopper or axe… The action was like chopping a tree.
Four or five seconds later the passenger got out of the passenger seat. I saw him making a thrusting motion in and out towards the man’s body.
Chilling images capture moment one of Lee Rigby’s ‘killers calmly walked into Argos to buy a set of knives and sharpening kit – the day before soldier was hacked to death’; Chris Greenwood et al; 02 December 2013.
If Adebowale got out of the car after Adebolajo started attacking Rigby, it explains why neither Amanda Bailey or Thomas Seymour talk about Adebowale – they wouldn’t have been on the scene long enough to have seen him appear. On the other hand, John Power had been parked up on the other side of the road since the beginning, and would stay there long after the other two depart – therefore he would likely have seen everything. Likewise Saraj Miah said he saw both men leave the car.
So, putting this information together tells us that when Seymour enters the scene and is far enough along Artillery Place to be able to see around the shop (at about 13:26:11 – see Fig. 102), Adebowale has still not left the vehicle. A couple of seconds later, Amanda Bailey starts leaving the scene to move down the road, still apparently not having seen Adebowale leave the vehicle. From 13:26:15 onwards she is that much past the crash site that she can no longer just turn her head to the side to see what is happening. Please also note that by then Seymour is trying to overtake Bailey, so his attention should not be on what is happening on the side of the road (in fact, Seymour stars manoeuvring to weave between Power and Bailey as soon as he enters the scene).
We should say, then, that at 13:26:10 (which is two seconds after restart of the public version of the Shop Footage), Adebolajo is already attacking Rigby. This allows for Seymour to see it when he comes on scene, and because Amanda Bailey moves off one second later, it looks as if she is reacting to the attack by not hanging around. Now to try and broaden the picture, we should also notice that Ibrahim Elidemir doesn’t talk in his witness testimony about actually seeing a blow being dealt, as far as we know.
Remember, this is what he had to say:
I saw a black guy standing over him with a knife in his left hand. Its overall length was about 30cm.
I was scared. I was confused by what I was seeing and wondered what the man was going to do.
I heard someone saying ‘call the police, get the police.’
I was very frightened and returned to my shop and operated the electric shutter. I used the shop telephone to call 999.
I told the lady there had been a car crash and there was somebody stabbing somebody.
Recap: Lee Rigby trial updates as Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale accused of Woolwich soldier murder; Paul Cockerton; 02 December.
Watching Elidemir, we can see him looking down the road at 13:26:08 for a couple of seconds – and arguably at this time he sees Adebolajo standing over Rigby and preparing to attack. Then he moves back to the shop door where he has the shop building interfering with his view. Arguably he doesn’t see anything more until he goes and stands by Miah at 13:26:19 where he glances (see Fig.103) and moves back into the pavement again and retires into his shop never to be seen again. Arguably, at this stage Adebowale had joined the scene and Elidemir could not see what was going on or understand it clearly – besides which, he only takes a glance before he hurries inside, prompted by the others around him, to call the police.
It is entirely possible that Elidemir only saw and understood Adebolajo preparing to attack Rigby, but not actually attacking him – just because of the amount of time he spent on the pavement and because of his bad point of view. The Shop Footage shows someone going in the shop at 13:26:32 – other people went in before that – to join Elidemir inside. There is a very good chance that when Elidemir called the police, he reported the stabbing as second hand information given him by those other people. However, notice that he said he reported a car crash. It’s a good bet that he offered the information of the car crash because initially that’s all he thought had happened.
We are starting to get a model of what might have been going on in the area that is obscured to us in the Shop Footage, but we need to go back and test it against two things – Amanda Bailey report, and our calculations for speeds for the Tigra. In our model in which the Tigra is decelerating all the way to the stanchion from the position at point D (just before it strikes Rigby), the car would be due to hit the stanchion at 13:26:02. At this stage, Amanda Bailey reports being on the scene – she saw the impact with Lee Rigby. In a piece by ITN, it was reported that Bailey approached the scene from Rectory Place – we should treat this as authoritative, especially as we don’t see her in the Shop Footage before Rigby is struck. Bailey was meant to have been visiting her child’s school, presumably the one along Rectory Place. She took her time rounding the corner because she is seen coming to a halt at 13:26:08 – where she stays stationary for only 5 seconds. We are told that she had pulled up to call the police but misdialled:
Ms Bailey tried to call 999 but “in her angst” she mistakenly dialled 9999 as she saw the driver get out of the car, holding a cleaver.
Drummer Lee Rigby was ‘hacked like a joint of meat’ in ‘barbarous and cowardly killing’, court hears; Tom Whitehead; 29 November 2013.
Let’s study again exactly what she said:
It seemed a long time passed before the driver got out of the car. I then saw the driver reach into his sweatshirt jacket.
I thought he was reaching for a phone to call an ambulance but i was shocked when he pulled out a knife with a rectangular blade.
… [as the attack was happening] I was so shocked all I could do was sit there and stare at what was happening.
Recap: Lee Rigby trial updates as Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale accused of Woolwich soldier murder; Paul Cockerton; 02 December 2013.
Should we suppose that when we see Bailey slow to become stationary, starting at 13:26:08 this is when she tried to dial the police, and as she was doing it, saw Adebolajo get out of the vehicle. If we say that the attack commenced at 13:26:10, this would fit nicely in with all the other information so far assembled here.
We can weave the first four witnesses into a plausible scenario of interaction with what is going on in the video. The trouble is, when we do this, it actually undermines the veracity of the witness testimony regarding the intensity of the attack. Consider the realistic possibility of Amanda Bailey having time to see Adebolajo hit Rigby 9 times – as it was claimed on her behalf by the prosecutor Whittam. If we think that this is a remote chance, then consider Seymour, who would have had less time to appreciate what was going on; Whittam told the court that he saw Adebowale hit Rigby between 10 and 20 times. It begs the question – did the court really hear a witness testimony from either Seymour or Bailey that claimed seeing ludicrous amounts of murderous blows in impossibly quick time, or did Whittam just decide to capitalise on the spirit of these testimonies, like he did with Saraj Miah’s?
In the same vein, how also do we account for the fact that much, much later, the Nimmos, who are the last witnesses visible on the footage, still see Rigby being “chopped up all over” (to paraphrase). Inspecting this a little bit closer, we notice that the Nimmos turn the corner into Artillery Place at 13:28:10; their car passed the spot where the Tigra is parked up at about 13:28:15, and comes to a halt at 13:28:22. Let’s say that it is in the middle of these times when the Nimmos first become aware of the assault. This is 2 minutes and 12 seconds after we think the attack commenced. Tina Nimmo insisted that she saw Adebolajo still dealing huge blows to Rigby, and demonstrated in court with her own dramatic stabbing gesticulations. At this point, the attack had been going on for 132 seconds – including a break to chase people off. So, how can we reconcile this information with the testimony of Gary Perkins who gave an estimate for the duration of the attack. He said that the attack lasted for between 5 and 15 seconds, and he must have meant from the time that he became embroiled in it. Gary Perkins, in Gill Huck’s car, pulled up directly next to the scene at 13:26:39 – so, according to Gary Perkins, the attack continued until 13:26:54. What Perkins could be talking about is the moment that Adebolajo stopped hacking at Rigby to fetch a rusty firearm from the car (see below). If the attack really did stop then, then it would mean that the Nimmos didn’t see any of the attack.
But Perkins and indeed Hucks could be mistaken after all. In the previous chapter, we didn’t detail all of Perkins and Hucks’ testimony. Here is what else was disclosed:
Says Perkins: “[Gill Hucks] was in an extreme state of distress. I got out of the car, when I saw what was happening my immediate thought was to get back into the car and move for fear of being attacked”.
“She was in no state to move the car.”
Gill Hucks told the court in her statement that she went to get out of the car near the scene but her passenger Gary Perkins said “F…ing hell, that man is being stabbed.”
Woolwich Murder: Court hears graphic testimony; staff writer; 02 December 2013
These two statements contradict each other. One says that Perkins realised what was going on after he had got out of the car, the other says that Perkins realised what was going on as Hucks was getting out of the car. On the video footage, we do see the driver emerging from the vehicle in question – this must have been Hucks. The footage never shows anyone getting out of the passenger side of the Red Kia.
Consider what else Hucks reported:
[After the attack] Male one then dragged him in front of my car. He then flung the body on to the road.
Chilling images capture moment one of Lee Rigby’s ‘killers calmly walked into Argos to buy a set of knives and sharpening kit – the day before soldier was hacked to death’; Chris Greenwood et al; 02 December 2013.
It is an extraordinary statement. In the footage, Adebolajo (the attacker Hucks refers to) never drags the body into the road in front of her vehicle. Lee Rigby’s body is in line with the front of the Tigra – so we can use the road sign stanchion in the footage to visualise where this would be. The Kia does indeed stop at first in what would be the right place should Adebolajo had really dragged Rigby’s body in front of it (see Fig. 30). However, it moves down the road without this ever happening, and from then on, is too far down the road. If Gill Hucks thought that Rigby’s body had been dumped in front of her car, then she must have been hallucinating.
So what we have in the case of Hucks and Perkins is a mismatch between what we can see on the video, and what they say is going on around them at the time of their stay on screen. In this case, it is the inability of the witness statement to cohere to the footage that undermines Perkins’ own very bloody tales of murder. He said he thought Adebolajo was “sawing at the neck of Lee Rigby with a machete”, and Adebowale was “trying to cut bits of the body away”.
There is, however, a moment in Hucks’ testimony that does match up with the footage, and that links in with what other witnesses say about events confirmed by video footage. This is when a bald man in a green jacket crosses Artillery Place from the barracks side and stands in Rectory Place looking at whatever is going on (see Fig. 31).
In my rear view mirror I saw a man approaching the attackers. The males threatened him and he left.
At 13:28:08 the man scurries away. Adebolajo appears on the screen with his right hand in the air. If he has a gun in his hand, then it’s a landmark by which we can confirm other statements. Take Saraj Miah, for instance. He said “the black man from the passenger seat took out a gun and aimed it at me”. Notice that is undoubtedly talking about the introduction of a gun into the scenario when before there hadn’t been one. He also is saying that it was Adebowale, not Adebolajo who introduced it. This is not what we understood to have happened from other witnesses. Generally it has been agreed that Adebolajo took the gun out of the car, waved it a passers-by, and eventually gave it to Adebowale.
It’s not just with this one piece of information that Saraj Miah has been found wanting. Fig. 104 shows how far he ever gets down the road towards the Tigra according at least to the Shop Footage. And yet he claims that he “told them” – meaning he spoke to them – and it prompted the introduction of the handgun which was aimed directly at him. If Miah spoke to Adebowale peaking from around a corner several tens of feet away on the other side of a road, how was that supposed murderer meant to see him let alone point a gun at him? So, thus far Miah had been incorrect, and implausible – but let us overlook this very bad start for him, and look at the footage to figure out when this moment could have been when he had a gun pointed at him. Doing this we notice that there is an instance at 13:27:40 when he and another bystander suddenly turn and with some great haste make their way back down Artillery Place away from the Rectory Place corner (see Fig. 105). After lingering for a few seconds, he disappears from the scene for the rest of the footage – and as it happens, there doesn’t seem to be anything from after this moment in his testimony.
Despite everything else that doesn’t make sense, the camera doesn’t lie – at the same time as Miah runs away, Gill Hucks’ car pulls away down the road. There has obviously been a major development, and it is plausible that a gun was introduced at 13:27:40, or a few seconds before, and Saraj Miah might even have held himself and his whispered protestations responsible for it. We can say that Miah and Hucks’ actions probably confirm that the bald guy in the green jacket was probably confronted by an Adebolajo who was by then armed with a revolver.
Of course, Miah wasn’t the only one who saw the gun introduced. This is what Cheralee Armstrong and James Heneghan did, according to Prosecutor Whittam:
James Henegan and Cheralee Armstrong shouted at the men to stop. “They looked up as if neither were there … and carried on,” Mr Whittam said. As Mr Henegan and Ms Armstrong remonstrated with them, one of the men went to the car and pulled a 1920s revolver which he pointed at them. They jumped back into the car and drove a short distance, the court was told.
‘Butchered like a joint of meat’: Jurors gasp as they are shown footage of Lee Rigby murder; Paul Peachey; 29 November 2013.
From the footage we think that the Hengan car is a silver one that pulls into Rectory Place, from Artillery Place, at 13:26:40. This means that there is roughly a minute goes by in which the car pulls up, Heneghan and Armstrong jump out of the car and remonstrate, and then Adebolajo goes to the car and whips out the gun. So, with this incident of the gun being introduced, we can mesh Perkins and Hucks, Miah and the Heneghans together at a time doing things that we can for the most part verify by footage. We mustn’t ignore, however, the fact that most of these witnesses were at some time or other grossly incorrect about what they saw. They may have been in the right place at the right time, but they didn’t see what we would expect them to see.
It was mentioned above that there could have been anything up to a minute after Heneghan arrived before Adebolajo interrupted himself to avail himself of a weapon to deal with them. Please note all the time in that minute, according to Armstrong, the two Michaels were attacking Rigby with as much vigour as Bailey and Seymour told of at the start, and the Nimmos told of at the end. This is what Armstrong had to say:
I thought they were resuscitating the person on the floor following a car crash.
I then saw the man’s arm. He kept ramming two knives into the person with some force. It was like they were mutilating the person’s body. It seemed like they were trying to remove the person’s organs from his body.
The killing of Lee Rigby: Through the eyes of witnesses; Max Evans; 03 December 2013.
What Armstrong appears to be saying, here, is that 30 odd seconds after the start of the attack, what is occurring on the ground by the Tigra is still presenting itself in a way that could be misinterpreted as a rescue attempt. How could this be? From 13:26:10 for about 5 seconds, Bailey and Seymour saw Adebolajo stab Rigby between 9 and 20 times. At 13:26:39 – 29 seconds in and just before Heneghan and Armstrong were about to become involved, the attack was still “frenzied” according to Perkins. All this is happening when the Heneghan car turns up, so the question has to be, if the attack had been so violent, and had been sustained for so long, why would Armstrong not understand it for what it was straight away? Why would the two Michaels be mistaken as trying to resuscitate the body? There is another great problem with Armstrong’s testimony to do with what was an implied relationship with a bus that pulled up and she seemed to interact with – as we will see next chapter. Suffice it to say, if Armstrong and Heneghan were around the corner in Rectory Place, how did she manage to be qualified to speak about a bus – presumably the Number 53 – pulling up in Artillery Place?
The biggest problem in Armstrong’s testimony, of course, is actually repeated in Michelle Nimmo’s testimony, who told of how “these men began repeatedly attacking the man on the ground, chopping away at him all over”. This is a curious choice of words. Did she mean resumed, because she must have seen the carnage and understood that the attack was already in the process of being executed? Or did she really think the attack was beginning from scratch – and in which case, how could she possibly when she was arriving some 130 seconds into it?
To draw this all together we can say that there is a scheme that we can build from our interpretation of what occurs in the Shop Footage combined with witness testimony. The creation of this scheme inherently demonstrates that to a certain degree, witness statements and video evidence can corroborate other witnesses. The following can be extrapolated from that meshing of information:
13:26:02 – The Tigra comes to a halt.
13:26:10 – Adebolajo starts to attack Rigby.
13:25:15 – Adebowale joins in.
13:26:39 – Gary Perkins arrives – says the attack will carry on for 5, 10, 15 seconds.
13:26:40 – Heneghan pulls into Rectory Place.
13:27:30ish – Handgun produced by perps.
13:28:15 – Nimmos draw level with the scene of crime – attack still ongoing.
However, even if we can place events at certain times, there seems to be a problem in that the extent of the attack always seems to be over exaggerated, or even implausible. There is a strange phenomenon of witnesses reporting the attack seemingly starting over again – how can the attack last for so long and be so violent and yet seem to begin like an attempt at resuscitation each time a new witness encounters it? It cannot. The epitome of this delusion must be the way the Nimmos think they see an attack taking place several minutes after it started, on a body that is the wrong way up, and believe that a fellow is being resuscitated when in fact by then, and by all accounts, he should have been disembowelled. In fact, if other witnesses are to be believed, the attack had finished long before, and the body had been thrown in front of their car. Although the witness statements do help build a picture that can be verified in the footage, there are big moments when this is wildly wrong, and witnesses who should be seeing the same thing according to that picture actually contradict each other.
Verdict: For the most part, witness testimony which reveals positions for individuals in the landscape at certain times is verifiable in the video footage. However, instead of it causing a unity of narrative, there are too many contradictions, and the idea that witnesses saw Rigby suffering a bloody murder become unstuck. It’s one thing for these witnesses to be in the right place at the right time, but it’s very telling if they then don’t see the same things. It suggests there is no central truth to what they collectively try to describe, but only individual conceptions that are cobbled together to give the illusion of that core event. We’ve already discussed why witnesses would appear to report things that didn’t happen.