LONDON — Black Friday took a dark turn following reports of gunfire at Oxford Circus, but it was a false alarm with fewer than 10 people sustaining minor injuries.
Late Friday afternoon on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, British transport police responded to emergency calls and social media reports of shots fired at Oxford Circus, home to the flagship stores of brands including Topshop, Hennes & Mauritz, Nike, & Other Stories, Zara, Benetton and Apple.
Police and armed counter-terrorism officers evacuated the Oxford Circus tube station and the nearby Bond Street station and told panicked shoppers and commuters to “go into a building, stay inside until further direction and avoid traveling to the Oxford Street area.”
They later reopened both stations having found no evidence of gunfire, and declared the incident to be over. They believe an altercation between two men on a tube platform sparked the mass panic, and are now appealing for witnesses to the incident, which was captured on CCTV.
We have not located any trace of suspects, evidence of shots fired or casualties. Officers still on scene. If you are in a building stay there, if you are on the street in #OxfordStreet leave the area. Officers continue to search the area. More updates as soon as we have them
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) November 24, 2017
Following the station evacuations, eyewitnesses saw crowds of people running from Oxford Circus toward Piccadilly Circus in tears. Panicked people flooded into Piccadilly Circus station as police tried to impose order on the crowds.
Police created a blockade as far back as Great Marlborough Street, where Liberty is located, to stop people from approaching Oxford Circus. Helicopters and fire engines could be heard across the West End.
One woman is said to have sustained injuries during the evacuation, and eight others were later taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
The threat level for terrorism in the U.K. remains “severe,” according to MI5, following a string of deadly attacks in Manchester and London earlier this year.
Friday’s incident occurred on one of the biggest shopping days of the year in the U.K. Although it’s a working day, scores of retailers were running Black Friday discount sales in-store and online.
According to a report from the New West End Company, which promotes retail around Oxford Circus and Regent Street, Black Friday 2017 is set to be the busiest the West End has ever seen, with sales predicted to reach a record 150 million pounds.
“International visitors are predicted to turbo-boost this upturn, as they continue to make the most of the weaker pound. This year international spend is expected to reach 54 million pounds, with domestic spend up to 100 million during the one-day sales bonanza,” a spokesperson said.
“The Black Friday phenomenon has taken off in the U.K. even without the American Thanksgiving holiday as an anchor. Defying early cynics, its staying power as a highlight of the consumer calendar is now certain, and in 2016 more retailers than ever participated in some form of promotional activity over the period. It is now no longer just a single-day shopping extravaganza, but a week of offers and discounts,” the spokesperson added.
As Oxford Circus returned to normal late Friday, Jace Tyrrell, chief executive officer at the New West End Company, said: “This is a very high footfall area and safety and security are number-one priorities for everyone working in the district. A police presence remains in the area to support the public. With the lockdown now lifted and reassurance from the police, we look forward to welcoming visitors as usual over the weekend to begin their Christmas shopping.”