Witness to terror: ‘There was a lot of screaming. I’ll never forget the fear in the eyes of the police’

‘In situations of terror, you get the heroes, the quiet ones, and the people who completely lose their minds’: Paul Millar remembers the terrifying day he was trapped inside Parliament during the 2017 Westminster attack.

One foot in front of the other. He maintains a nervous pace until he reaches his office, writes Will Millar. A helicopter hovers above the building. He can see it clearly on the television in the corner of the room.

Every single office door is bolted shut and a deathly silence starts to emerge. On a normal day, the sound of chatter, laughter, and division bells ring through the palace of Westminster. Today, a policeman has been stabbed to death.

Paul Millar, who was just 24 when the Westminster terror attack took place in 2017, had only been working in Parliament for six months, as a researcher for the late Paul Flynn.

When the job got too chaotic, he’d sit alone in the atrium of Portcullis House, sipping a coffee, amongst the tranquil setting of trees and distant chatter.

That’s where he was when the sound of gunshots rattled through the atrium. That grim afternoon in March, there were six victims. Five innocent adults and a killer shot dead on the grounds of Parliament.

“There was a lot of screaming. The police officers were running, trying to keep everyone away from the entrance,” he says. “The fear in their eyes will always be stuck in my memory.”

Escorted to safety, Paul and his colleague Kathy hid underneath a table in the office. The chaos soon faded and was replaced by a tense stillness, where the slamming of every office door mimicked that of a prison cell.

“The feeling in the building was that this was only going to get worse,” he says. “Rumours were going around that there were bombs in abandoned cars. Even my dad texted me saying there’s a gunman in the building. It was terrifying.”

After a while, Paul was moved to a safer environment. Though, the new location, identified by its single-glazed windows and fragile structure, left him feeling even more anxious.

News channels relentlessly covered the event and started to identify the policeman that had been stabbed – PC Keith Palmer.

“I knew Keith Palmer. He was someone I used to walk past. Someone I used to speak to. A lot of people did,” he says.

With nothing to eat but some Rowntree fruit pastels from a near-empty vending machine, Paul started to observe the odd behaviour of those around him.

“I recall a few people who wouldn’t stop playing with the TV sets. They were obsessed with changing the channel,” he says.

“In situations of terror, you get the heroes, the quiet ones, and the people who completely lose their minds.”

Five hours had passed, and Paul could leave, he shuffled through a cowshed of journalists and reporters. On his long walk home, he passed Huw Edwards, setting up scene on Westminster bridge. Ready to deliver a united 10 o’clock news.

The following morning was eerily quiet in Westminster. Abandoned cars. Police tape. The palace had been choked of its personality. No bells. No laughter. No Chatter. Security no longer greeted Paul but grilled him on arrival.

Just a couple months later, a snap general election was called, and Paul was plunged into the chaos of campaigning. He tried to come to terms with the attacks, but he was restless and so were his colleagues.

One night, whilst campaigning in his MP´s constituency. Paul was sat in the back of a car driven by a colleague, when they crashed at a road junction and the car was sent spiralling out of control. “Inches more and we would have died,” he says.

That election campaign was littered with traumatic events and Paul vividly remembers these months being the hardest. Hearing about the Manchester Arena bombing, and the London Bridge attacks forced Paul to relive that horrible day inside Westminster.

Upon returning to London, Paul started to notice his mental health deteriorate. He recalls arming himself with a tennis racket on the tubes, in case he was attacked.  In Parliament, he started to experience symptoms of Post-traumatic stress-disorder (PTSD).

The sound of a hoover echoed the screams in the atrium. The cleaners in the corridor slowly morphed into police running up and down the building. Paul realised these triggers were sinking deeper into his conscious.

One day, after settling into a new role, he fell ill.

“I felt faint and my body was taken over with adrenaline. My face was bloated and pale. I thought I was having a heart attack,” he says.

What Paul experienced, was the beginnings of a panic attack. A very severe panic attack. He recalls the security guards. Fully grown men. Weeping as they watched on. His vulnerable mind started to play tricks on him, and he was cast back to the events of the attack.

“What happened during that panic attack proved that I’d completely lost my mind,” he says. “I thought the Russians had poisoned the water in the Parliamentary estate. That was my only explanation.”

Paul scrunches his face, as he explains the horrors, he felt during the panic attack. He remembers feeling that his death was certain. He even started to prepare his final wishes.

After being taken to hospital, Paul was diagnosed with PTSD and a severe anxiety disorder. He soon left Parliament and moved back in with his parents. For him, this was a safer, more secure place.

His overall health had been chipped away at but months of cognitive behaviour therapy helped him get back to his feet. Though, the effects were still long lasting and sleep became his only medication.

It has been more than four years since the Westminster attack. He no longer visits the city. Paul now works as a councillor for East Devon District Council, 200 miles from London.

Recovery is slow and he often laments that afternoon. That grim afternoon in March, where five innocent lives were taken.

Paul may never look past his own trauma, but he is insistent that each person, affected by the attack, should look after oneself.

“I like to remind myself of the instructions from cabin crew to air travellers. Put your own oxygen mask on, before helping others,” he said.

Five Get #Cancelled on Social Media: is it okay to enjoy classic children’s stories written by authors who had bigoted views?

Photo by Corrie Barklimore. flickr.com/photos/80144821@N00/2767723506

Last night I broke the lockdown rules, writes Nikita Sharma. I went to a place I have been visiting since I was a child. Kirrin Island. I spent my time jumping over rocks encasing natural pools of crystal-clear water and feeling the soft as powder sand beneath my feet as I explored the castle ruins.

Of course, I wasn’t there physically but who said you couldn’t feel something so vividly so wholly, you feel as if you were truly there?

I think that’s the magic of books. The ability they have to transport you to a different time and different land. That’s what I like best about the children’s books I still keep close to my heart. But whilst reading them in these past few years, I’ve had guilt and outrage swirling inside and then like smoke, hanging over me.

Finding out your favourite childhood authors held racist and sexist views and realising now that they incorporated those views into their writing? It doesn’t feel good. And rereading today, you can see a line here and there not sitting right, suddenly you see the hidden messages and understand the double meanings.

Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl. These were my heroes. Their works are legendary.

It really is upsetting thinking that if I were to meet my favourite childhood writer, they probably wouldn’t like me very much. And the reasons would simply be because of the colour of my skin.

Being a woman of colour, issues like these really mess with my conscience. But I can celebrate the books that mean so much to me without excusing the person behind them

Someone of my generation shouldn’t be enjoying these books after finding out the truth. Nowadays, typed in bold HASHTAG CANCELLED on social media platforms is the only direction you need to know what persons should be avoided. Everything is either black or white. But it was one of the things that welcomed me with a warm embrace. The words called me back.

And it wasn’t just me – millions of others felt it too! Introducing us to a world of giants and witches and made-up nonsense languages to decoding secret messages and catching smugglers; these books had humour and originality, they encouraged us to broaden our imaginations.

So, we have these clearly wonderful pieces of works unfortunately written by problematic people, what do we do? Is this just a case of separating the art from the artist?

Should we even judge people for ideals that were the norm to have ‘back in the day’ with values we hold today? Was Roald Dahl and his anti-Semitism simply a product of his time? These are outdated views, and we must accept that it was a different time.

But this frame of debate takes me back to the essay I was forced to write on Winston Churchill a few years ago. I remember my blood boiling as my teacher chattered about what a great man he was, knowing his racist views and inactions were to blame for the three million people who starved to death during the Bengal Famine.

However, apart from collecting ‘woke points’ on Twitter, holding dead writers accountable isn’t doing much. It gives no productive support to movements and organisations that aim for change. Being a woman of colour, issues like these really mess with my conscience and to ‘forgive and forget’ isn’t something I can apply. But balance is helpful. I can celebrate the books that mean so much to me without excusing the person behind them.

We can enjoy literature and art that have outdated views as long as we accept that they are just that, outdated, while we work towards creating pieces that are tolerant, kind, and fair to all.    And with that, I’ll be off on my next adventure! So long.

Revealed: the front runners in magazine cover prize showdown

These are the gorgeous glossies making a splash in the clash of the covers contest for journalism students at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Six striking designs have made the shortlist in the university’s annual cover prize competition, which is being judged this year by Joe Brewin, deputy editor of FourFourTwo, the world’s biggest football magazine.
Students on DMU’s Journalism degree create print and digital magazines in a final-year project which puts the writing and design skills they have gained during their studies to the test. Each year, the best covers go head to head for a cash prize.
The page-ones to watch in this year’s crop are:

MMXX, a defiantly upbeat magazine showcasing inspiring stories amid the gloom of lockdown, created by Khrista Davis, Mary De-Wind, Beatriz Ferreira, Luke Pawley and Rean Rehman.

Horizon, a contemporary lifestyle magazine telling tales of hope and trauma created by Maryia Lall, Claudia Montague, Temba Ncube, Sonia Raju and Millie Steptoe, which includes a powerful story of a survivor of so-called conversion therapy.


Escape, a socially-aware health and wellbeing magazine with a keen interest in environmental and mental health issues, created by Matthew Childs, Izzi Rix and Abbie Wilkinson, and featuring an in-depth report on women with endometriosis and their long struggles to get diagnosed.


Blood.Sweat.Tears, a modern sports magazine with a focus on football, wrestling, boxing, basketball and tennis, created by Samuel Gill, Adam Rear, Harry Shellard, Oliver Taylor and James Wynn.


Spotlight, an entertainment/culture magazine aimed at Gen Z and millennials created by Savannah Duncan, Samuel Hornsby, Salma Ouaguira Abir and Khadisha Thomas, which boasts an interview with the I May Destroy You star Weruche Opia.


Rivo, an arts and culture magazine created by Rhys Bailey, Victoria Kingsley, Isatou Ndure and Omar Qavi, featuring an in-depth interview with Sex Education star Rakhee Thakrar.

The winning magazine is due to be announced next month, with a £200 prize up for grabs. Journalism programme leader Brian Dodds said: “Each year, I’m struck by the impressively high standard of the magazines produced by our talented students at DMU and this is yet another very strong shortlist of contenders. Well done to them all.”

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The influencer changing the face of Instagram

Our new series Class of 2020 highlights some of the best feature writing by this summer’s journalism graduates from De Montfort University, Leicester. Here, Chloe Martin tells a frank story of a young woman who battled severe acne – and online trolls

Just a little blur here and a quick smooth there and you’re done. Using filters or photo editing apps can be an easy way to hide your skin imperfections in the online world.

But this is not realistic. We are led to believe that all women have perfect skin – they don’t.

Mariah Pearson, from Somerset, is helping to change people’s perceptions of those who suffer with conditions such as acne or rosacea. Mariah’s aim is to counter the fantasy world of unblemished skin that has been created through social media.

She had suffered with acne since the age of 12, but when Mariah turned 20 things started to get more serious when she suddenly developed a severe type called acne conglobata.

“You develop open wounds around the affected area,” she says. “The wounds tunnel under the skin connecting themselves together with their own sinus tracts, which can lead to disfiguring scarring and is extremely painful.”

Her acne was becoming increasingly worse. In May 2019, Mariah was sat waiting for a dermatology appointment, anticipating she would be prescribed a next-level drug to tackle her skin condition. This the moment when her Instagram account, acnetain, was born.

“The handle ‘acnetain’ is a play on the name of the medication I’m on,” says Mariah.

Accutane is the brand name of isotretinoin, a strong medication used to treat severe types of acne that have not been improved by other treatments. It comes in the form of capsules usually taken over a period of one to eight months.  

The drug promises great results for the skin but it comes with a warning. Dry eyes and chapped lips are common reactions to isotretinoin, but it also has carries the risk of rare but serious potential side effects, including stomach pain, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

“I’d heard of Accutane before my acne was bad, and it didn’t appeal to me because the side effects didn’t seem worth it. Only when it got bad it seemed like a relief,” says Mariah.

 “I had a friend who’d been on it, and she told me some pretty dark things about her mental health, and how it hadn’t been the same even after she finished, so that scared me,”

“The worst side effects I have had so far are dry eyes, and since suffering with social anxiety for my whole life, that doesn’t help either,” Mariah says.

Many people decide to create an Instagram account to keep track of their Accutane journey and to look back at how far they have come.

“I remember searching #accutane on Instagram, and to my surprise I found loads of accounts documenting their progress. I thought that I could do that too,” Mariah says.

Mariah uses her account to record her progress whilst on Accutane, where she shares photos of her journey and talks about how she is feeling that day.

“I was initially scared of starting the account since I had a very severe case and thought I might receive some hate, and my self-esteem was too low at that point to handle any of that. But I took the plunge…and ‘acnetain’ came alive. Ranting about how I really felt on that first post was an amazing feeling,” says Mariah.

After growing massively since May 2019, Mariah’s account now has 8.5k followers.

“I never fathomed that I would reach even 100 followers, let alone 8,000! It started out as a little account to track my progress and somewhere to express my frustration. I guess the authenticity must have really resonated with people,” Mariah says.

But having a large following on social media does come with its downfalls. “You know what social media can be like. People hide behind a screen and can say such horrible and demeaning things they would never say in public,” says Mariah.

Receiving hate from anyone can be disheartening, but when it’s from a person who you don’t know who’s hiding on social media, can make it worse.

“I have received some negative comments, usually in other languages. I knew it was rude as they used the bee emoji, guessing they were implying I got stung by bees,”

“I have also been told I’m too pale/too white, have a massive forehead and I complain too much. But the positive comments usually outweigh the negative ones,” she says.

People who suffer with skin conditions may feel they must edit their pictures to hide their skin imperfections, but we should learn to embrace our differences.

“I really had myself convinced that a selfie wasn’t worth posting if you could see my skin problems,”

“Before I started this account and while my acne was bad, if you looked on my social media you wouldn’t have had the faintest clue that I had acne. I was so good at hiding it. Angles, filters, lighting. I really was an expert of alluding to clear skin,” says Mariah.  

Instagram can be a negative haven of people posting about their perfect lives and skin constantly. “After creating this account and filling my feed with less toxic accounts, I realised just how damaging me hiding my acne was,” Mariah says.

Even though having a following on social media can come with negative aspects, it can also be positive. “Having this account taught me that I’m a lot stronger than I thought,” she says. “When I go back to my first posts, I don’t just see physical progress on my face, but I read the captions and realise my mental progress too.”

Creating an online presence allows you to express yourself and to become more confident. “It also taught me that I can be a leader. Having social anxiety all my life, growing up I was too shy to stand up for what I believe in. But since creating this account I’ve realise I can be the one people look up too, instead of look past,” Mariah says.

Accounts like Mariah’s show people what real skin is like, and it can help others feel more positive about their skin. “I often receive messages from people telling me how much I’ve helped them with their acne. It always makes me smile and feel happy that I could help in some way, no matter how small,” says Mariah.

After being on Accutane for eight months, Mariah can see incredible changes to her skin. “My Accutane journey has been very long, but also very successful. I feel happier now my acne has gone down. Once you live in constant pain for a while you never take it for granted once it goes away,”

“It is one hell of a medication and I’m sick of the side effects now. But I should be finished very soon,” says Mariah.

Going through any type of acne can be tough and emotionally draining on anybody. “Try to hold on and remind yourself that it will get better, it won’t always be like this. Never believe those fads you see online, go and see a dermatologist,” Mariah says.

Entering Jaya’s dream

Over the coming days and weeks, Leicestershire Press will be showcasing the work by some of this year’s graduates from the Journalism programme at De Montfort University. Our Class of 2020 series kicks off with a profile of JayaHadaDream by Rosie Vacciana-Browne

It was an overcast afternoon in mid-January, terrace houses stretched up and down the street grazing the drizzly skyline. Everything was grey. Everything but a single burst of colour beaming from a window; it was wide open, the vibrant green and yellow of a Jamaican flag dancing in the blistering wind. X marks the spot.

This window belonged to 20-year-old rapper and student JayaHadADream (Jaya). A Cambridge native, Jaya started her musical journey in 2019 after moving to Nottingham to study. Like many creatives, she balances her art alongside other responsibilities. “I rap, I sing, I produce, and I study at the University of Nottingham.” Diverse in every sense of the word, JayaHadADream is a self-sufficient musical entity with the brains to back it.

Her music is powerful, as much a challenge to society as it is rhythmic in its beats. Her debut album, titled Hypersensitive, was released late last year. It explored love, life and the experience of a mixed-race woman living in a culture that is quick to label people as “hypersensitive snowflakes”. From top to bottom throughout every inch of her music, Jaya is trying to spread a message. She challenges austerity cuts, politicians, misogyny and explores her Irish/Caribbean heritage, emotions and mental health. A bucking of the rap trend that often focuses on monetary and physical booty.

With a warm smile, JayaHadADream opens the door to her student digs. “Come in. We’ll go upstairs. My friend uses the living room to sell his Depop clothes.” On paper, this could be a house share in gentrified London or the plot to Netflix’ next big series ‘The Rapper and the Fashion house’. “Do you want a tea or anything?”, her hospitality was beyond anything I had experienced in halls. We headed upstairs to discuss her music and upcoming ventures.

Her room was vibrant and energised. The walls painted a mustard yellow, covered in pictures of friends, family and her boyfriend. There were incense sticks and a mic already set up. It felt like her music, the consciousness of her lyrics scrawled across her room. “I try and get the most run-down places, so they can’t complain about me smoking weed.” This bedroom was the beginnings of a rap star, I was sure.

While some have greatness thrust upon them, others seize it by choosing a stage name like ‘JayaHadADream’; an intentional nod to Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Had A Dream’ speech. It seemed fitting to ask what Jaya’s dream for present-day Britain would be. “It’s quite unrealistic, but if I could eradicate inequality, a lot of other things wouldn’t be a problem. Like cultural appropriation wouldn’t be a problem if everyone was equal and respected equally.”

In recent years, the right-wing press has made its views on British rap abundantly clear, tearing down artists and demonising the genre. One of those leading the charge is Daily Mail writer, Good Morning Britain presenter and online troll, Piers Morgan. Piers is ever labelling liberals as ‘snowflakes’ and loves to head to his Twitter to have online spats with those who he does not agree with (popular rapper Stromzy being amongst them).

It seems at this point to be a rite of passage for those at the forefront of activism to receive an online attack from Mr Morgan. As a political, black female rapper, I knew that Jaya could be at the top of Piers’ list if she were to burst into the mainstream, but to block or to reply? That is the question with Twitter. “I’d 100% reply, he’d probably end up blocking me, but I’d reply. I’d love Piers to message me. It’d make my day because I hate him so much. I’m sorry it must be said. The whole Good Morning show needs to be banned. They can’t be reproducing that.”

The 14-tracks on Hypersensitive take listeners on a journey through JayaHadADream’s mind; it’s honest and real. I asked her to pick her three favourite tracks for people to listen to if they wanted to get to know her music.

The first song she chose was ‘Admittedly’. “It perfectly encapsulates the daily routine of my life before I was proper making music and came to university; writing music, smoking weed and feeling angsty and depressed. Things weren’t right and so much was unfinished before I left (home). It reminds me of where I am now and of habits that everyone has like ‘admittedly I spend too long on my phone’.” The track features rapper Ben DSP.

Her second choice was ‘Challice’ 99’, a song that challenges the (unwanted) opinions put onto us by older generations.

 

“I wrote it in summer, I was just chilling, I had no Wi-Fi, and my head was in a weird space, but I made some sick music. I like the way I mixed my harmonies and what it’s about. I re- spect a lot of my elders. But, I think a lot of them can be quite condescending when it comes to music because it’s very different now and it’s way more possible (to make it), I think some of them try and hold you down for their ego. Not all of them, a lot of them have helped me, but there’s a few I get a vibe off. The songs quite vengeful but sometimes that’s necessary.”

Jaya’s third and final track was ‘Real Love’ a modern-day sonnet and love letter for the youth. “It bounces up and down it’s so hard to perform because it’s singing, then slightly singing, then rapping, then singing – there are no breaks. It’s just about the difficulties in love because I think social media and expectations have ruined a lot of things.”

JayaHadADream is only just at the beginning of her career but at the start of 2020 she looked to have a bright year ahead of her, with numerous performances lined up across the country, including the Nottingham and Cambridge stops of rapper Shay D’s Queens of Arts Women in Hip Hop Tour 2020. “That was going to be a big thing for me, especially to meet and network with all those female artists,” she says.

We all know what happened next. But live music will be back, one day, and seeing JayaHadADream is an experience that goes far beyond your average gig, so catch her when you can.

JayaHadADream’s Hypersensitive is available on all platforms.