UK
21/03/2018 10:34 GMT

The Memories I Have Of The Bridge Are Just Sadness, Says Westminster Attack Victim

A hospital shop worker injured in the Westminster Bridge attack was forced to give up his job and plans to emigrate to escape the haunting memories of the atrocity.

Francisco Lopes, 27, was walking across Westminster Bridge when he was flung across the bonnet of the 4×4 driven by murderous extremist Khalid Masood.

He had almost reached Big Ben when he heard a woman scream behind him, and saw the Hyundai veer into the cycle lane.

“I thought ‘oh, that car had just had an accident’,” he said.

“I’m not a person that is extremely curious so I continued to make my way forward. The next second I just looked back again and I saw that the car was on the pavement. That’s a moment that’s been in my head a lot.

“The car just comes onto the pavement. I had no time to do anything, it just went at me. I just felt that I spun in the air. I was just on the ground after that.

“That’s all I can recall from that moment. At the time I had no clue what was going on.

“Fortunately I didn’t pass out, I was just moving in pain on the floor, like oh my God what just happened? I’ve just been hit by a car.

“Then I looked around and I saw people on the floor that looked far worse than me. I saw an unconscious lady to my left, and  another lady who was screaming to my right. It is a pretty horrific memory that I have still.”

Westminster Bridge attack anniversary
Emergency crews on Westminster Bridge (PA)

The former English teacher required surgery on his hand and months of physiotherapy to regain its full use.

He still struggles with memories of that day, dislikes being in crowded places and was forced to give up his job near the site of the attack because of the sadness that his journey to work provoked.

“Looking back on it now, my life is so much different than it was,” he said.

“I was so different than I am now. Sometimes I wish I was that person still. I was much stronger. I had a much stronger character. I’ve kind of lost a lot of confidence in myself. I’m not comfortable being in crowded places.

“I try not to talk a lot about it because I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I want to try my best to be the normal person that I was. It’s been quite tough.”

Mr Lopes is troubled by mental images of being hit by cars, worries if a vehicle drives past quickly, and avoids taking trains and tubes.

Working at Marks and Spencer at St Thomas’ Hospital proved too much for him because of the proximity to Westminster Bridge, so he left his job in December.

He said: “The memories I have of the bridge are just sadness, every time I walked past I used to see the flowers that people used to lay for the people who passed, for the people that were courageous.

“It was just a continuous nightmare going past it. So I talked to my manager and I decided to just resign because I couldn’t handle it any more.”

Soon he will leave London, where his mother still lives, and move to Ecuador.

“I don’t really enjoy my life here after the accident, I just want to go where I feel comfortable. My goal is to go back to South America to be with my fiancee.”

Five people were killed in the atrocity and dozens injured. Masood stabbed Pc Keith Palmer, 48, to death and also killed US tourist Kurt Cochran, Romanian tourist Andreea Cristea, 31, and Britons Aysha Frade, 44, and Leslie Rhodes, 75.

Mr Cochran’s wife Melissa, who is among five victims of the attack represented by law firm Slater and Gordon, said: “We all miss Kurt very much and speak of him often. I continue to focus on my recovery and think of all of the victims of that terrible day at this difficult time.

“While I continue to grieve my husband Kurt and all the victims of that day, I strive to move ahead and focus on my recovery as well as honouring Kurt’s life by advocating love, forgiveness and peace.”

Westminster Bridge attack anniversary
Kurt Cochran and wife Melissa (Slater and Gordon/PA)

The inquests into the five deaths will begin in September, followed by a separate jury inquest into the death of Masood, who was shot by police.

Lawyer Patrick Maguire from the firm said: “When Khalid Masood drove into our clients in a despicable act of evil a year ago he changed their lives forever.

“Many still face a daily struggle with their physical injuries that are unlikely to ever properly heal. But what has blighted all of their lives are the mental scars from the horrors they experienced that day.

“The anniversary of this terrible day should be used to remember those who lost their lives and support those who survived with their recovery.

“We look forward to the inquest, when questions about how this atrocity was ever allowed to happen, will hopefully be answered.”