Humble hero inspires nation

Woman who kept armed men calm says she doesn't understand why her actions have attracted so much attention

This snapshot on Twitter shows a suspect holding a knife and speaking to Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. Photo / Supplied
This snapshot on Twitter shows a suspect holding a knife and speaking to Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. Photo / Supplied

Ingrid Loyau-Kennett is wearing Union Flag socks. They are the same ones she was wearing on Thursday, when she jumped off the Number 53 bus to confront two alleged terrorists who just minutes before had apparently brutally murdered a soldier outside Woolwich Barracks in southeast London.

The men, their hands smeared with blood, were armed with butcher's knives, meat cleavers and a gun. As other passersby stopped to stare, or film the incident on their mobile phones, Loyau-Kennett, a divorced mother of two from Cornwall, saw a man lying in the road and, without a thought for her own safety, stepped in to help.

The image of her calmly confronting one of the suspects has dominated national and international news coverage of the incident. She is slight and the attacker, his eyes dark with anger, towers over her. Blood is spattered on the sleeves of his black coat, drops sliding off the knife he clutches in his left hand.

As she waited for the police to arrive, Loyau-Kennett, who lived briefly in New Zealand, tried to reason with the two suspects.

"Would you like to give me what you have in your hands?" she asked one, pleading with him to put down his weapons.

"We want to start a war," the other told her. "I will shoot the police when they come. I want to kill them."

Looking them straight in the eye, she replied calmly: "That's not going to happen. I am here and I am going to listen to you."

While up to 60 others - men, women and children - stood back and watched, the 48-year-old former cub scout leader trained only in first aid, single-handedly kept the attackers calm and distracted until help arrived. Then, this extraordinary woman got back on her bus and carried on with the rest of her day. As reports of her bravery emerge, she has been called fearless, selfless, a model citizen.

Loyau-Kennett's behaviour gave hope. She faced down atrocity with humanity. Yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron praised her courage.

"When told by the attacker he wanted to start a war in London, she replied, 'You are going to lose. It is only you versus many'," he said. "She spoke for us all."

Now Loyau-Kennett is struggling to understand why everyone is talking about her. A quiet, matter-of-fact woman with a tendency to laugh when nervous, she is overwhelmed by the attention her actions have brought. By yesterday she had not been home since the incident.

"It's a bit much," she admits, shrugging. "I don't think I've done anything extraordinary. I suppose if everybody says I'm a hero I will have to believe it eventually, but right now I don't get it."

Loyau-Kennett was on her way home from visiting family in France when she ended up in Woolwich. She was born in Brittany, but her family is British - her great-grandfather worked for MI5 and her grandfather was awarded the Defence Flying Cross by George V for his efforts in World War I. She came to England as a teenager and, after her time in New Zealand, has been here since.

Formerly a teacher, she is now retraining as a translator. She had stopped off in London this week to stay with her two grown-up children while looking for a job. On Thursday, she decided to head back to Cornwall, her home for the past five years. "I thought, 'There's no traffic, so I'll get the Number 53 bus [to central London]'. Well, that didn't last.

"The bus stopped because there was a body on the road and a crashed car. In that split second, you think road accident. I saw the person wasn't moving and nobody else was going to help, so I went. How can people just sit there and do nothing?"

Within seconds of getting off the bus, Loyau-Kennett realised there was more to the scene. The dead man had apparently been run over by a car and attacked with knives. A Caribbean woman tending to the man on the ground told her he was dead.

"I took his arm to feel his pulse," she remembers. "There was blood on the pavement where he had been dragged and blood was pouring out of him. Suddenly this excited black man came up to me and said, 'Get away from the body; don't touch it'.

"I looked up and I could see red hands, a bloodied revolver, bloodied meat cleaver and a butcher's knife. 'OK', I thought, 'this is bad'."

She stood up and started talking to the suspect, now believed to be Michael Adeboloja. "He said the man was a British soldier and he had killed him," she explains.

"He said he did it because British soldiers had killed women and children in Muslim countries."

She says she tried not to think about the weapons the man was carrying. "It's one thing to take your car and kill someone - and it's another to look someone in the eyes and plunge a knife into their stomach.

"I was sure he was not going to do that to me. I didn't even think his revolver was working, so I asked him. He looked at it and then at me and said, 'Yes'." Loyau-Kennett says the suspect looked "genuinely upset, like someone who had seen something terrible. He seemed very agitated".

When he walked away, she approached the other man. "He looked older and he said nothing," she said. "I asked him if he wanted to sit down and give me what he had in his hands."

Ten minutes passed. A crowd had gathered around the dead soldier, but still nobody else approached the suspects. "There were 50 to 60 people," says Loyau-Kennett. "They were watching; filming on their phones. I pushed one back because he was too close. I told them if they want to do something, come and help. It made me sad. They were thinking of themselves, not about this poor guy."

Then a woman from the crowd asked Loyau-Kennett to step back. "I told her I wasn't leaving; as long as I don't see professionals here, I'm staying. He knows me; he knows I'm calm. I'm not afraid whatsoever. I'll stay until something happens."

Around her neck, she wears a small gold cross, encrusted with rubies and diamonds. She is a practising Catholic and partly credits her faith for how she acted. "I live my life as a Christian," she explains. "I believe in thinking about others and loving thy neighbour. We all have a duty to look after each other.

"A whole group of people walking towards those guys would have found it easy to take those weapons out of their hands. But me, on my own, I couldn't."

Later that day, Loyau-Kennett met her children, Basil, 23, and Pewony, 24, at Victoria station. "They knew what had happened when I got there," she says. "I had texted them saying, 'I'm on a different bus because of the shooting'. They must have thought, 'What the heck?' My son said, 'Are you crazy, Mum? You could have been killed'. He was upset that he could have lost me."

From her handbag, she takes out two faded photographs of Basil and Pewony as tousle-haired schoolchildren. "I didn't let them cross my mind," she says.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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