INTERVIEW: Blackpool terrorist attack survivor speaks out a year on
When a terrorist drove a van into a crowd of people last year, scores of lives were changed forever in a matter of seconds.
Blackpool student Craig Meichan was one of the lucky ones. He was not one of the five killed or 45 injured during Khalid Masood’s rampage in London a year ago today.
But having witnessed the aftermath close up – he was near Westminster Bridge when those pedestrians were hit – he too has seen the course of his own life change as a result of that day.
Former Blackpool Sixth Form student Craig, 21, who now studies politics and public relations student at Edge Hill, wants to work for the police in counter terrorism or report on events as a broadcast journalist.
Both routes appeal, he says, after seeing the absolute need for security intelligence and the need to get news out after the attack.
He was part of the Edge Hill politics class getting ready to visit Westminster Abbey when they heard shots. Masood, 52, was shot dead by police after he crashed his van and stabbed a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament.
Craig, who attended St George’s High School, said: “It was really strange. We had just walked across the road and a couple of minutes later heard the gunshots – we didn’t realise what that was at the time.
“We just saw the police rush in and in a couple of minutes a helicopter flying into Westminster Square. We got a text off our friend Travis saying he had been hit – it was a really stressful time. We didn’t know what was going on or whether our friends were safe. We were separated from our other group of friends and our lecturer.”
The 21-year-old said the attack has given him a new motivation.
He added: “I’m not wasting my time any more. I’m taking all the opportunities I can get.
“About five months after the incident I went to study abroad in Brussels. You can’t let these things get you down.
“It could have gone one of two ways. I could either rise above it and be a confident and better person – obviously you‘ll still be affected by what happened – or let it get to you.
“I think you can’t let it get to you. You need to be strong and make something of it.”
He also learned the wider impact of such events on both the injured and those who escaped, and on their families and friends and how important their love is.
He recalls with gratitude how Edge Hill arranged facilities for parents and family members to meet the returned students.
His mum Trish Greenwood was among those determined to get to Edge Hill as soon as possible.
He said: “It was amazing. The sort of emotion in that room was obviously something I hadn’t ever seen.
“It was just a loving environment of everyone being together. After those events you do have this innate need to regroup with loved ones.
“It strengthens those bonds much more and makes you realise how important those bonds are.”
Craig and the politics students who were in the capital on that fateful day plan to meet up for an anniversary meal today to reflect on the anniversary of the attack and the journey they have since taken.
The Westminster terror attack may have taken place 240 miles away but its lasting effects have been felt right across the country – including here in Blackpool.
Although tourists and families enjoying their downtime have been specifically targeted by terrorists in recent years, there has never been a public suggestion the resort is a target.
Nevertheless, steps have been taken to keep visitors and locals alike safe, though security officials have been understandably tight-lipped about the finer details.
Both the council and police spoke out last year in a bid to reassure the nervous, with 50 per cent of 687 people polled by The Gazette saying they didn’t feel safe in the town.
It came after a tabloid article said ‘Brits enjoying the seaside are prime targets for ISIS’.
Random bag checks were introduced at the Tower, while armed police were a regular site on the Promenade during last summer – but the message in the resort was: “We won’t let terrorists win.”
Lorries were also parked sideways, blocking traffic from the middle Promenade, where crowds gathered to watch the World Firework Championships in the autumn.
Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “Blackpool Council has been working with Lancashire Constabulary and their Counter Terrorism Unit and the other emergency services as well as owners and operators of key sites in the town.
“There is nothing to suggest that Blackpool is a target. However, we have developed plans and measures to improve safety in the town during key busy days and events that provide some mitigation without ruining the enjoyment of what people are trying to see and do here in Blackpool.
“We cannot of course reveal the detail of those as this would to some extent reduce the impact of their effectiveness.
“As with all public places during these difficult times we would ask that the public remain aware and vigilant of anything unusual.”
The Westminster terror attack was one of four in London alone last year.
And there was also the Manchester Arena bomb, which killed South Shore Academy receptionist Jane Tweddle.
A book of condolence will be opened at City Hall in London today, for people to pay their respects to those killed in last year’s attacks.
Messages of support will also be shared under the banner #Londonunited, in a similar vein to the messages of solidarity that followed the Manchester attack on May 22.
In the aftermath of the arena explosion, which killed 22 people, cities and their residents across the globe shared messages saying: “We stand with Manchester.”