A LOUGHGIEL woman has told how she and her friends escaped harm during a visit to the Royal Opera House in London as rioters and looters rampaged in the city.
Claire Mullan (24) said they felt “intimidated” by the dramatic scenes of disorder which ripped through the capital but fortunately the five ladies made it home safely.
Claire and four friends - all from the Loughgiel Irish Dancing School - went to London to take in the ‘Swan Lake’ ballet but as they left the peaceful surrounds of the Opera House they emerged into the middle of a cauldron of fear on the streets.
As riots raged as close as a mile away the girls immediately contacted nearby police officers - who had swarmed onto the streets to protect the public and property from looters - and the local women were advised not to walk back to their hotel but to call a cab.
Claire was on the trip with Loughgiel women Lisa Gillen, Denise Dobbin and Rosin McFadden and Lynsey Graham from Ballymena. But unfortunately the trip coincided with some of the worst scenes in London in living memory.
The women were on a three day excursion from Sunday to Tuesday of last week but despite the mayhem they toughed it out. However, the threat of violence was ever present and even on their way back to the airport their travel plans were thrown into chaos.
The Stanstead Express train service from the centre of the city to the airport passes through the Tottenham area, where the violence had exploded onto the streets just days earlier.
The women instead had to fork out to pay for a taxi to whisk them away from any troublespots.
Claire Mullan told the Times they were thankful they did not come face to face with any rioters or looters and throughout their short stay they received several phone calls from concerned family members back at home who were checking on their safety as the trouble flashed up on tv screens.
Despite the well-founded concerns the women assured those on this side of the Irish Sea they were not in immediate danger and were taking all measures to keep safe.
Claire explained: “When we woke up in the hotel on the Monday morning our feelings of excitement and anticipation vanished. Instead of looking forward to a few days of fun and frolics, a feeling of anxiety set-in.
“There was a feeling of fear as violence and unrest took hold a short distance away from our hotel.
“When we made our way down to the hotel lobby, immediately we became aware of unrest on the streets of London. We asked the hotel receptionist what was happening. However, she reassured us the trouble was a good bit away from us and we had no reason to worry,” added Claire.
That evening they made their way across London to watch Swan Lake in the Royal Opera House. Swan Lake eludes to a rather peaceful display of dance, set against the backdrop of good versus evil and this was certainly the case for the girls when they had to make a rather difficult journey back to their hotel after the show.
As they emerged from the Opera House the local ladies encountered three police vans on the road, and immediately they began to feel anxious.
They asked the police what was happening in the area and officers advised them about the dangers of walking back to their accommodation.
Claire said: “They told us to get a taxi, just to be on the safe side, as the riots were within a mile of where we were.”
On the Tuesday the group again braved the tension-filled streets. Ballymena women Lynsey Graham told the Times: “On Tuesday morning we saw the news and were shocked to say the least that such violence was so close. The city was very intense that day and we counted 14 police vans driving down Oxford Street at one stage. There were police eveyrwhere and we saw Welsh Heddlu vans as well.”
As the group ventured down the street to do a spot of shopping, they witnessed some shops with no stock.
Lynsey claimed that some jewellers had all the stock removed from their windows.
Claire said they were told by the police that they were in the tourist area, so they would be safe.
“We were in the well known tourist areas, but it was scary trying to get back. We were told we could walk if we wanted, but with five girls who aren’t familiar with the area, it was scary.”
As they walked around the shopping mecca of Oxford Street, Claire said: “The police presence was unbelievable. Bond Street was closed, and there were at least two policemen at every shop door.
As the evening began to unfold, and the girls were making their way back to the hotel to get ready for home, they saw police searching many young people.
Lynsey claimed that: “We decided that it would be safer to a get a taxi to the airport rather than a tube and train to Stansted as the train passed through Totttenham and there was a fire near the line. Even driving in the taxi through different areas of London was scary.”
“Finally on the way out of the city we could see several clouds of smoke coming from fires that had been started, we were never so glad to arrive at the aiport.”
Claire added: “Police vans were everywhere. We had to cut our shopping trip short, as there was a feeling of tension on the streets. There wasn’t a nice atmosphere, we all felt an uneasy and intimidating feeling about the place and we were all glad to get home at the end of it.”