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Priest speaks of community’s ‘resilience’ after Streatham knife attacks

03 February 2020

PA

Police officers in Streatham, south London, on Monday

Police officers in Streatham, south London, on Monday

THE Rector of St Leonard’s, Streatham, the Revd Anna Norman-Walker, has praised the “resilience and neighbourliness” of the diverse south-London community, after a suspected terrorist stabbed two people just metres from the rectory before being shot dead by police, on Sunday afternoon.

The man, named as Sudesh Amman, aged 20, was wearing a fake suicide vest when he stole a kitchen knife from a general store and stabbed a man and a woman on Streatham High Road. He was chased by plain-clothes officers before being shot several times by uniformed police.

Ms Norman-Walker was arriving back at the rectory, at about 2 p.m., when she heard gunshots. “My daughter and I just got back from the church brunch, and we heard gunshots,” she said on Monday.

“We thought it was a car back-firing, but it was five consecutive bangs. Suddenly, people came down our road, just off the High Road, and very quickly — within minutes — police cars were blocking the road, cordoned tape went up, and helicopters came down. It was quite extraordinary.”

The attacker, who had been released from prison about a week ago, was under active police surveillance and was the subject of a live investigation. He had been imprisoned 14 months previously for possessing Islamist recruitment material, including instructions on how to inflict damage using various types of knife. The Prime Minister has launched an investigation.

Both victims were treated in hospital. The man, said to be in his forties, suffered a large gash in his side, but is no longer in a life-threatening condition. The woman, said to be in her fifties, was released from hospital last night. Another woman was injured after being hit by glass splintered by police shots.

As the rectory was within the cordoned area, Ms Norman-Walker was unable to leave. “We were very British about it and made the police cups of tea, and one or two people used the driveway to wait until relatives came home,” she said.

The church, further down the road, remained open. “As I reflected on the seriousness of it, and what was emerging, I decided to change the plan for evensong. . . I threw away the sermon I’d written and wrote something in response to the incident and prepared some intercessions and silence. About 30 people from the community came. The choir sang beautifully; we lit candles, and had quiet.”

St Leonard’s, StreathamMorning prayer at St Leonard’s, Streatham, on Monday. Prayers were said for peace and healing in the community, concluding with a special prayer written by the Dean

On Monday, morning prayer was attended by the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, and representatives of churches in Streatham. A group from some of the Evangelical churches later embarked on a prayer walk around the parish.

Bishop Chessun said in a statement on Sunday: “As we hear the news of the suspected terrorist incident in Streatham, not far from where I live, I encourage everyone to pray for all those people affected by the incident and for the area. I am glad that the Rector of St Leonard’s, Streatham, was able to support the emergency services as they worked to care for those who had been injured, and to bring calm to the area.

“The Dean of Southwark has written a prayer which I hope you will feel able to use as we pray for peace and an end to violence in our neighbourhoods.”

The prayer reads: “God of consolation, God of peace, hold those caught up in the events in Streatham, heal those who have been injured, calm those who have been disturbed, reassure those who are frightened, and bring peace to our streets.”

The Bishop and Ms Norman-Walker are due to attend an interfaith breakfast on Thursday. It is being organised and hosted by the South London Mosque as part of the Faiths Together in Lambeth group, of which St Leonard’s is a member.

Ms Norman-Walker said: “We will be thinking about acts of terror in the community, and how we can work together to support one another, and to remain united as a community.”

She urged Christians to “open your doors”, model resilience, and avoid demonising or “othering” people. “Streatham is massively diverse — we are hugely proud of our diversity, which goes way beyond tolerance, a word I dislike: that really means ‘We will put up with you,’ and that is not what St Leonard’s or Streatham is like. . .

“People are rallying and coming together, and there is a real sense of resilience and neighbourliness going on. These things have a habit of bringing people together.”

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