|A police cordon tape is seen at the scene of reported multiple stabbings in Reading, Britain, June 20, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra|
READING, England (Reuters) – Three people were killed in a stabbing attack in a park in the southern English town of Reading on Saturday and broadcaster Sky News said police were treating the incident as terrorism-related.
Police said they arrested a man at the scene. They did not confirm whether anybody had died but the Telegraph newspaper, the BBC and Sky News said three people had been killed.
The leader of the local council authority said there had been fatalities, without saying how many. The ambulance service said it had treated “a number” of casualties but gave no further details.
Two people were rushed to a hospital in the area, a spokeswoman for the hospital said.
A witness quoted by the Mirror newspaper said the knifeman “shouted some unintelligible words” before stabbing people who had gathered in the park on a sunny summer evening in Reading, which is about 40 miles (65 km) west of London.
A witness who spoke to the BBC, Lawrence Wort, said the attack began when a man suddenly veered toward a group of about eight to 10 friends and began stabbing them, “so the first three he got so completely out of the blue, he got very badly”.
Wort said the assailant locked eyes with him and the person he was with and started coming toward them, but they ran away to safety, at which point the man turned back to attack another group. When everyone started running from the scene, the attacker ran from the park, Wort said.
While Wort described a single attacker, it was not yet clear if he was the only person involved in the stabbings.
“My thoughts are with all of those affected by the appalling incident in Reading and my thanks to the emergency services on the scene,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Video footage posted on Twitter showed paramedics rushing to help at least three people who were bleeding on the ground. Reuters was unable to verify the footage independently.
Matt Rodda, a lawmaker who represents Reading in Britain’s parliament, said the park, located in a historic area of the town, was typically busy on a Saturday evening.
“It’s used by people to sit and meet with friends and obviously at the moment people have been meeting there, observing social distancing, and just chatting to friends peacefully in a park,” Rodda told Sky News.
“This incident happened in that kind of environment so it’s really quite deeply shocking for local people.”
Current coronavirus restrictions mean venues like pubs are closed, so people in Britain gather in parks in the evenings to meet friends.
The head of the local council authority in Reading, Jason Brock, said his thoughts were “with the families of all those who have died or have been injured.”
The attack in Reading took place at the site of a Black Lives Matter anti-racism protest in the town earlier on Saturday but police said it did not appear to be connected.
A BLM supporter said on Facebook the stabbings occurred a few hours after the protest had ended and people who attended the demonstration were unharmed.
Some 36 people were killed in four attacks in Britain blamed by authorities on terrorism in 2017, the most deadly of which occurred at the end of a concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande in Manchester, northern England, with other attacks at London Bridge and near parliament.
Last year the government downgraded the national terrorism threat level to “substantial,” meaning an attack is likely, from “severe”.
(Reporting by Peter Cziborra in Reading, Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge in London and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Frances Kerry)