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Islanders caught up in Westminster lockdown

Miriam Brett, pictured during the 2014 Scottish independence campaign, was involved in the Westminster lockdown on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Simon Baker

SHETLAND Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins and islander Miriam Brett were among those caught up in the aftermath of Wednesday’s deadly attack in London.

Five people died and at least 40 people were injured when an attacker drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament.

It was, incidentally, one year to the day that Collins was in Brussels when a series of terror attacks killed 32 civilians.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael was not in London at the time as he was attending a seminar on justice in Shetland.

The Houses of Parliament were placed into lockdown, with hundreds of people kept inside for hours while the emergency services dealt with the incident.

Collins had been in a meeting with shadow environment, food and rural affairs minister Sue Hayman at the nearby Portcullis House when word of the attack spread.

He said there was “concern” but not too much panic when police officers rushed into the building and told people to move.

The fishing leader ended up being locked inside the MP’s office for around five hours before being let out.

“We were in one of these meetings places in the central area when there was a lot of shouting, and police saying to get to the back of the atrium. A lot of people were running about with guns,” Collins said.

“We just waited there until we were told to go to the MPs’ offices and keep our heads down until further notice. Five hours later, we were allowed out. When it was all going on, we weren’t any better informed than anybody else. There was a lot of rumour and counter-rumour. There was concern, but not panic.”

Brett, who works in London as an economic adviser for the SNP and was also involved in the lockdown, was heading into her office near the Portcullis building when the incident happened.

She paid tribute to the emergency services for their work on the day.

Speaking on Thursday, Brett said: “Yesterday was heartbreaking, and my thoughts rest with everyone impacted by the innocent lives that were lost in the attack.

“The emergency services were utterly incredible, and their bravery won’t be forgotten. Throughout the lockdown, they worked tirelessly to help all of those impacted. An incredible moment for me was when the staff, parliamentarians, visitors and journalists were leaving Westminster in the aftermath of the lockdown.

“When you envisage circumstances such as that, you expect the atmosphere to be fraught with anxiety. But the atmosphere wasn’t fearful. People were hugging their colleagues, and thanking the police.

“As was said in the chamber today, combating hatred with hatred is utterly futile. Solidarity, compassion and love can and will win. Brendan Cox, the husband of the late MP Jo Cox, who tweeted to say, ‘In the days to come I hope we will remember the love and bravery of the victims not just the hatred and cowardice of the attackers’. I think we would do well to remember his words.”

Speaking on BBC Radio Shetland on Wednesday evening, Carmichael said he rushed to find out about the wellbeing of his staff when he heard about the news.

He said the attack on the “Westminster village” was “very close and very personal” for anyone connected with the parliament.

“[If it is a terrorist incident], then at that point you realise it’s not just an attack on the village, it’s an attack on democracy,” the MP said.

“It’s an attack on us all for being there for the reasons that we are put there, and that’s the way in which we have to look at it.”

Carmichael added that he felt an element of “personal guilt” as he happened to be in Lerwick when his colleagues were involved in the lockdown in London.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021