Police question two men the day after London's Oxford Circus station is evacuated

Shoppers walk along Oxford Street in London, Nov 25, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (NYTIMES) - A report of gunfire led to the panicked evacuation of one of London's most crowded subway stations late Friday afternoon, but the scare proved to be short-lived, a testament perhaps to nerves frayed by a year in which London has been targeted by several terrorist attacks.

The station was reopened within 90 minutes, as police reported that they had not found any "evidence of shots fired or casualties."

Later on Friday, however, British Transport Police said they believed that "an altercation" had erupted between two men on the subway platform. The episode spurred a stampede and panic, leading to a flood of unconfirmed reports on social media.

Police then said on Saturday (Nov 25) that two men, ages 21 and 40, "attended a police station voluntarily and were interviewed."

The investigation was continuing.

Earlier, witnesses at Oxford Circus, thronged with shoppers on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, described a scene of people running from the station, some in tears. Shopping bags littered the sidewalk, and one woman was seen running down the street wearing just one shoe.

One witness on Twitter said there had been "a fight on the westbound platform that involved around 20 people. There was a lot of screaming, shouting and crying. As I got on to the tube the comms speaker announced the station was getting evacuated and for everyone to leave."

At that point, the witness said, people started running for the exits.

Mattias Nilsson, 45, said he was in town with friends for a Premier League soccer match and was near the station when he heard people shouting, "Shooting! Terrorists!"

"We just ran. Everyone started running," he said. "This is making me nervous."

Caroline Rigby, a 33-year-old journalist, said in an exchange of electronic messages that she was on Carnaby Street, near Oxford Street, "when a wave of hundreds of people started running towards me screaming and panicking."

She said that she and others ran into a shop.

"Police told everyone to get off the street and put it on lockdown," she said.

"Then it seemed calm, until another wave of panic and screaming and people ran into the shop I was in and we were bundled into basement."

Remote video URL

Police closed off roads within several blocks of Oxford Circus and urged people in the area to take shelter in stores and office buildings.

Metropolitan Police then issued a statement saying that officers had responded to calls at 4.38pm and were proceeding "as if the incident is terrorist related."

But Transport for London was more measured, calling it a "customer incident."

Finally, British Transport Police said that the only injury reported was that of a woman hurt in the stampede, and that was minor.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.