BBC documentary Hospital features astonishing footage of Westminster terror attacker and the survivors' fight for life
Ben Dowell salutes a stunning piece of factual television which captured the moment Khalid Masood arrived at St Mary’s Paddington
As RadioTimes.com revealed last month, when BBC factual series Hospital returns later this month it will show footage of the moment Westminster Bridge terrorist Khalid Masood arrived in hospital following his deadly assault on 22nd March.
It is an extraordinary moment in an extraordinary hour of television.
The episode begins when a routine hospital meeting at St Mary’s Paddington is interrupted as the staff’s mobile phones keep ringing. A major incident has taken place and staff learn that they are about to receive an influx of injured people for treatment.
Masood is shown being wheeled in on a trolley accompanied by a number of armed policeman. He is taken for treatment and we see his semi-naked body lying on a hospital bed. A member of the medical team then emerges to say he is “RIP” – and he is taken to the mortuary under police guard, his face blurred.
Masood was certainly unconscious at the time he was first filmed, although whether he had died is unclear.
“None of us... knows when he died, that is a matter for the coroner,” says executive producer Simon Dickson. “He is part of the story and his appearance on the film is as you see it, it’s brief but his arrival is a key part of the day and that is fully reflected in the way that scene is handled.”
Masood's attack saw him drive his car across Westminster Bridge into pedestrians causing devastation and resulting in the death of four people.
After his vehicle crashed into the perimeter wall of the Palace of Westminster, Masood ran into the grounds of the Houses of Parliament, fatally stabbing a fifth victim, unarmed officer PC Keith Palmer, before being shot by a police firearms officer.
In total, six people, including the attacker, died as a result of the assault and more than 50 were injured, some of them severely.
In many ways Masood’s dramatic appearance is not the most extraordinary thing about the film, which focuses on three patients – French teenagers Yann and Victor, and Stephen, an unassuming young Englishman who was visiting London with his wife Cara to celebrate his 40th birthday when he was struck by Masood’s vehicle and his life was changed forever.
At first, the three are presented as silent patients – bodies, almost, to be fixed. But as the film unfolds, the colourful and vibrant personalities of all three emerge.
Yann has had his scalp sliced open (and by the way, this film is not for the squeamish). He needs surgery urgently.
Victor has been seriously injured by the vehicle, his lung is punctured, his ribs are broken and his life is in danger.
As for poor Stephen, he and his wife Cara were about to hail a taxi when they were, in her words, “ploughed down”. His leg has a huge gash in it and he is probably in the worst state of the three. As his surgeon, Shehan Hettiaratchy (pictured below) says, before recent medical advances his leg would have had to be amputated.
The courage and skill and dedication of the St Mary’s medical team is astonishing at times.
What is also noticeable is their kindness. At one point one of the surgeons strokes Victor's head – aware that he is a young man in a foreign country who has just experienced something terrible.
But it isn’t all tragedy. There are some light moments, occasion black humour even.
A very special scene shows the surgical staff eating hamburgers at the end of the day, catching up with the news of what happened. Another great moment sees one of the doctors look to the camera and say, totally deadpan: “We are busy”.
Yann’s interactions with his anxious mother are delightful to watch as well. “I’m 18, mum,” says the slightly embarrassed teenager at one point.
At the height of the emergency we see the team following a 194-page protocol for a major incident. They are quickly into place, ready to receive casualties of an event the details of which remain sketchy.
It is remarkable access. “I don’t want to say we were in the right place at the right time because it sounds wrong but we were obviously making inroads into series two… then it happened,” Dickson says of the timing. No one would use the word lucky, but it was an extraordinary moment to capture just three days into the shoot.
It would spoil it to detail too much about Yann, Victor and Stephen's road to recovery, but all three are incredibly resilient in the face of this unimaginable horror.
Stephen’s wife Cara is also extremely honest about what she has gone through, having witnessed the love of her life close to death.
As Stephen says at one point “I’ve got the broken body, she’s got the broken mind”.
“We live our lives, like anybody else,” he adds. “We both work, we come home, we eat dinner we watch a bit of TV and we go to bed."
As do many of us. But sometimes TV – like this – can be so extraordinary and powerful it’s not easy just to head off to sleep.
Hospital series 2 begins on BBC2 on Tuesday June 20th at 9pm