Police rushed to London’s Oxford Circus on Friday, sparking fears of a terror attack, but stood down after finding no evidence to support reports of shots fired.
“Our response on #OxfordStreet has now been stood down. If you sought shelter in a building please now leave, and follow the direction of police officers on the ground if you need assistance,” the Metropolitan Police said on Twitter.
Police had responded to reports of shots fired on Oxford Street and at the Oxford Circus Underground station and initially said they were acting “as if the incident is terrorist related.”
But an hour after the first reports, police said they had found no evidence that any shots were fired or that any significant incident had taken place. They said the only casualty was a woman lightly injured fleeing the station.
“To date police have not located any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or casualties,” the Metropolitan Police said an hour after the first reports of an incident. “Officers continue to work with colleagues from British Transport Police in the area of Oxford Circus.”
Oxford Circus station and two other nearby stations — Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road — were reopened after brief closures.
Police continued to search the Oxford Circus area for some time, going into stores and cordoning off areas, but as time passed, the center of the English capital gradually returned to normal.
Police had said in an earlier statement that they “were called at 4:38 p.m. … to a number of reports of shots fired on Oxford Street and underground at Oxford Circus tube station.”
They urged the public to clear the busy shopping area, and closed down the station and two others nearby. People in the area were instructed to take cover in nearby buildings.
Witnesses described dozens of people running from the scene in panic.
Eyewitness Bryce Malcolmson told Sky News that he heard an announcement inside Oxford Street station asking for police to go a particular platform. Then “I heard screaming and people running. People turned around in a bit of pandemonium,” he said.
He said he didn’t see the incident but that he believed it took place on a platform inside the station.
Within minutes, he said, “armed response units and police cars were absolutely everywhere.”
The incident took place on “Black Friday,” a major shopping day, and at the height of rush hour.
Britain’s Sky News also reported heightened police activity in the Selfridges department store on Oxford Street. A British pop singer, Ollie Murs, tweeted that he was in Selfridges and that shots had been fired there.
This report was not confirmed. Sky said Selfridges had been closed.
Eyewitnesses reported the area around Oxford Circus had been cordoned off, and that buses were abandoned along the main Oxford Street shopping boulevard.
London is on high alert following a string of terror attacks in Britain this year.