Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Father William Agley
"He shouted as he came into the church"
 real 28k

Keith Ford from Mayday Hospital
"Six people have lacerations"
 real 28k

The BBC's Alan Grady
" A naked man ran screaming into the church"
 real 28k

Sunday, 28 November, 1999, 18:44 GMT
Man quizzed over church attack
The church The church was packed with nearly 500 people

Police are questioning a 26-year-old man over a sword attack which left 11 churchgoers injured and four in a critical condition.

A naked man burst into St Andrew's Roman Catholic Church in Thornton Heath, south London during a Sunday morning Mass, and attacked members of the congregation with a samurai sword.

One man suffered severe hand and face injuries, and 10 other people were hurt in the attack and the panic that followed.

Police said the casualties ranged in age from 16 to 78 and included four men and seven women, drawn from the white, black and Asian communities.

The man was overpowered by members of the congregation, including an off-duty policeman, who used an organ pipe and a large crucifix.

Police said they arrested a 26-year-old local man and were questioning him at Croydon police station.

He is said to have been suffering from depression.

The most seriously injured of the victims was found by paramedics, who followed a trail of blood to find him slumped on a pavement two streets away.

He had run from the church pouring blood after having his jaw and neck deeply slashed and his finger and thumb chopped off.

Parish priest Father John O'Toole told the BBC the man had been prevented from causing further injuries by a policeman who was reading a psalm at the time.

He said: "Thankfully, the policeman had the presence of mind to pull out one of the organ pipes and use it to hold the man at bay."

Police confirmed the officer who intervened was PC Tom Tracey.

He was helped by another member of the congregation who used a large church cross to hold the man off.

Canon John Lennon, who had just finished a sermon at the time of the attack told the BBC he saw the back door of the church open and at least one man running down the aisle swiping at people with what he later learned was a sword.

Children's 'lucky escape'

He said: "Some of the men in the congregation reacted quickly and overpowered the man, while someone else rang the police."

Canon Lennon said it was only good luck that the church had not been filled with about 100 children at the time.

He said a number of children had just left the church to prepare for the mass and had not returned when the man broke in.

There were believed to have been about 400 people in the church at the time of the attack.

Canon Lennon said he finished saying Mass after the attack.

He said: "I was halfway through when it happened and I was determined to finish Mass.

"After the police came I went to the side altar and got on with saying Mass to a much smaller congregation."

The injured, all thought to be middle aged, were taken to nearby Mayday Hospital in Croydon and St George's Hospital.

Keith Ford, a spokesman for Mayday Hospital, said nine people were brought into the hospital. He said six suffered laceration injuries as a direct result of the attack.

Fr O'Toole Fr O'Toole praised an off-duty policeman's quick actions
One is currently in the operating theatre and two others are in the accident and emergency department's resuscitation unit preparing for theatre.

Three people suffered minor sword wounds, while another three suffered "sprain-type injuries".

Mr Ford said one other person had been transferred to St George's Hospital, which has a specialist ear, nose and throat department.

Eyewitness Fred Rebello said the scene at the church was "absolute pandemonium".

Mr Rebello, who was passing the church at the time of attack, said: "I realised something awful had happened.

"People were stampeding out of the main exit of the church.

"They were all a bit hysterical."

Father William Agley, who was in the church at the time, said the swordsman was running around the church "swiping the weapon and cutting people".

He said: "There was a lot of panic and screaming, and everyone was just trying to get out of the church as fast as possible."

Home Secretary Jack Straw extended his sympathy to relatives of the injured and said: "It is difficult to think of anything more shocking than having the serenity of a religious service shattered in this way.

"I am thankful that prompt action by those present had led to the arrest of this individual."

Police have issued a telephone number for concerned friends and relatives, it is 0171 601 2800.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

See also:
28 Nov 99 |  UK
Pc hailed for stopping swordsman
28 Nov 99 |  UK
Worshippers describe church panic

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories