LONDON — A teenager was fatally stabbed Monday and a second man wounded in attacks on London’s most famous retail street as thousands of shoppers flocked to Britain’s capital seeking post-Christmas bargains.
The killing of the 18-year-old man on Oxford Street — and a second wounding in the same road — did little to deter shoppers crowding into neighbouring stores in the landmark shopping district. Bargain hunters were also largely untroubled by a subway strike which badly disrupted the city’s public transport services.
Selfridges — close to the scene of Monday’s stabbing and one of Britain’s most popular department stores — reported its biggest ever first hour of trading Monday morning, while the New West End Company, which represents traders on central London’s shopping streets, reported 15 million pounds (US$23.5 million) in sales in the first three hours of trading.
Jace Tyrrell, of the New West End Company, said hundreds of thousands of people had visited central London retailers, despite action by police to cordon off parts of Oxford Street and temporarily close some stores.
“These incidents are extremely rare on Oxford Street and we understand arrests have been made,” she said. “The emergency services were quick to respond and have cordoned off the street as they continue with their investigations. We are working to ensure the street is open to businesses and shoppers tomorrow.”
Tyrrell said shopkeepers had requested a meeting with police to discuss the incidents. “We understand both incidents involved gangs of youth who were known to each other (and) the police, and did not involve individual shoppers,” she said.
London’s air ambulance helicopter had earlier rushed to the street following the fatal stabbing.
Authorities said the teenage victim died before medics could administer help, while amateur video footage showed police struggling to part large crowds of shopper to allow emergency vehicles to reach the man.
Police erected a tent outside a Foot Locker sports store as they carried out investigations and confirmed that about ten people had been arrested in connection with the death.
Officers said a second stabbing took place close by — on the corner of Oxford Street and Regent Street — but insisted it wasn’t immediately known if the two incidents were linked.
Det. Chief Insp. Mark Dunne, of London’s Metropolitan police, said two groups of young people appeared to have become involved in a large-scale altercation before the teenager’s death.
Dunne said that little more was known about the circumstances, but there were likely to be large numbers of witnesses. “This is probably the busiest place in the United Kingdom right now, on the busiest shopping day,” he told reporters at the scene.
“A number of weapons have been recovered from that scene — whether I have got the murder weapon I don’t know. There’s an assortment of items, but no guns,” he said.
In the second attack, a 21-year-old man was stabbed in the leg and is being treated in hospital for his wound.
Police said in a statement that three men had been arrested, but it was “too early to say whether this incident is linked to a fatal stabbing on Oxford Street.”
On London’s subway network, the ASLEF train drivers’ labour union staged a one-day strike to demand extra pay and additional time off for members working on the public holiday.
Despite the disruptions, huge crowds — some lining up outside stores from midnight — rushed into department stores in London and other British cities as soon as doors opened early Monday.
The London Underground, the organization that manages the subway system, condemned the move, saying it was pointless and demonstrated “a complete disregard for our customers.” Authorities said extra buses were running in main shopping areas to cater to the increased flow of travellers on one of the year’s busiest shopping days.
The ASLEF union has warned it plans to stage three more strikes in January and February if the dispute is not resolved.