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Westminster Terrorist Attack


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How 82 seconds of hell started with a WhatsApp message

At the Preston Park Hotel in Brighton on Wednesday morning, Adrian Ajao was chatting with hotel staff about his plans for the day as he checked out at reception.

"I'm off to London today," he told them as he handed over his credit card, before adding: "It isn't like it used to be."

The 52-year-old had spent the night in room 228 at the budget hotel, eating a takeaway kebab as he made his final plans for what would be the most murderous terrorist attack in Britain since the 7/7 suicide bombings in 2005.

He had checked in at 11.30am on Tuesday, and tried to negotiate a cheaper rate than the £59 he ended up paying, but the staff found him so pleasant that they wrote "nice man" in the notes on his computer booking.

During his brief stay he chatted to staff about his parents, who live in Wales, saying he was worried about his father, who has cancer, and his mother, who was struggling to cope.

He was "nice, polite and calm" according to one hotel worker, and raised no suspicions among staff.

The hotel's manager, Sabeur Toumi, said he was "laughing and joking, telling us stories about where he lived". The only oddity about his stay was that after he had checked out and put his two bags into his Hyundai hire car, a cleaner found him back in his room in just his underwear. The reason for this remains a mystery.

Sixty miles away, London was its usual bustling mix of workers and tourist.

In Westminster, Parliament was sitting, with a morning of debates preceding the highlight of the week, Prime Minister's Questions.

Among those looking forward to PMQs was 19-year-old politics student Travis Frain, who was on an "ideal" day out touring the Palace of Westminster with university friends.

Across the river, Spanish teacher Aysha Frade was in the middle of lessons at DLD College near Waterloo Station. Westminster Bridge was bustling with tourists, taking pictures of each other with Big Ben behind them.

For Ajao , the bridge and Parliament itself - or rather the people using them - amounted to only one thing: targets.

Despite his personable demeanour, Ajao, who was born Adrian Elms to a white mother and black father before his mother married and changed his name to Adrian Ajao, had a history of criminal convictions for violence and had twice been jailed.

He converted to Islam and changed his name to Khalid Masood, coming to the attention of MI5 when he started mixing with known extremists. Far older than the average jihadi, he had slipped off the radar and was assumed not to present a danger to the public.

As Ajao drove towards London, Pc Keith Palmer was beginning his shift guarding Carriage Gates, the vehicle entrance to Parliament, where at 2pm he posed for a picture with American tourist Staci Martin - a service he was always happy to perform.

By 2.35pm Aysha Frade had left work at DLD College to walk across Westminster Bridge on her way to pick up her two daughters from school.

Meanwhile at 2.37pm, Ajao was pausing to send a final message to someone via the mobile messaging service Whatsapp. Whom he was messaging, and the content of the message, has not yet been released by the police, but it is likely to be a vital clue in the hunt for accomplices.

However, police are expected to have difficulty accessing the contents, which were encrypted, and cybersecurity experts say they will have to employ their own hackers.

It was just after 2.40pm that Ajao, in the grey Hyundai Tucson 4x4, appeared on the eastern approach to the bridge, two large kitchen knives by his side. He mounted the pavement, reaching more than 40mph, and would take 30 seconds to cross the 250-yard span of the bridge.

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