A Channel 9 reporter grabbed and punched by a man allegedly armed with a screwdriver during a live broadcast from London says she wondered if he was wearing a suicide vest.
“I don’t think anyone knows the sound of their true scream until they’re in a situation like that where they feel like it’s a life or death scenario,” Sophie Walsh told Today this morning.
The network’s Europe correspondent was broadcasting live to Adelaide at 6pm about protests in the wake of Minneapolis man George Floyd’s death when she began to scream.
The attack was not captured on film but Walsh was clearly distressed in the live audio feed.
“Sorry, I just … I just had someone come up and try and … yeah. A man just came up and grabbed me. He’s not armed. A man just came up and grabbed me though,” she said.
The network reports the man shouted “allahu akbar” while making motions to stab her before he was chased down by camera operator Jason Conduit.
The alleged attacker was arrested for threats to kill and for possessing a weapon, Nine reports.
Walsh said Conduit “heroically” chased him down with a light stand and called police.
‘RATTLED’ REPORTER DESCRIBES ATTACK
A “pretty rattled” Walsh this morning said the attacker’s calmness while saying “allahu akbar” had been “disconcerting”.
“Even just hearing my scream. I don’t think anyone knows the sound of their true scream until they’re in a situation like that where they feel like it’s a life or death scenario,” she said.
“Which I did feel like that in a moment, I was doing a live cross into Adelaide, mid-sentence.
“The first I knew something was wrong, was Jase stepped out from outside his camera which he wouldn’t normally do unless there was a threat.
“Then I had this guy, random, come up behind me and grab me from behind. It was a bit surreal. He sort of started punching me, the only way I can describe it is sort of stabby motions.
“I managed to push him away. Then he was standing about five metres away from me.
“While I was on air, that’s why I was struggling to string a sentence together. He had a hand in his pocket. I thought: ‘Does he have a knife and is he going to come towards us and start stabbing us all?’
“We’ve had these stabbing rampages in London before. It was the third anniversary of the terror attacks on London Bridge. So I had that in my mind. I also thought: ‘Is he wearing a suicide vest?’”
Conduit said if necessary, it wouldn’t have been the first time he’d had to “pull someone off a journalist who was live on air”.
“He didn’t want to leave and then he yelled ‘allahu akbar’ and I could see he had a weapon in his hand and that was when I backed away and got the light stand and just (thought) keep him at bay and call the cops,” the cameraman told Today.
“And just keep tabs on him until they arrive.”
Conduit said the man “looked like he was on the phone” and had looked over his shoulder.
“You do what you gotta do, and I knew that he had to be stopped,” he said.
“The cops had to come eventually and … they did quite soon.
“And they didn’t mince around, that’s for sure. They took him down quite swiftly.”
The breakfast TV show’s host Allison Langdon said: “You have all of our love. Go well.”
In a statement, Nine said Walsh was “rattled by the encounter” but “unharmed”.
“The offender was very quickly apprehended by police and has since been charged. Nine News appreciates the enormous pressure our international correspondents are currently under and is offering Sophie all the support she needs.
“Sophie is grateful for the outpouring of support she has received from the public and wishes to reassure our viewers that she is safe and well.”
Walsh was covering upcoming protests that have spread from Minneapolis after Floyd, a black man, was killed at the hands of white police.
More than a week after Floyd’s death, protests have sprung up around the world. In the UK, police chiefs issued a joint statement requesting peaceful protests after riots broke out elsewhere.
Less than 12 hours after Walsh was attacked on-air, fellow Nine Europe correspondent Ben Avery and his cameraman Cade Thompson were reportedly “ambushed” by protesters.
Nine said Avery “had to abandon his coverage as protesters clash with police in London”.
“It was a tense 10 to 15 minutes, that’s for sure,” Avery told Today.
The crew, who had a security guard, had covered the protest all afternoon.
Avery said it had been a peaceful protest “90 per cent of the time” and they had tried to tell the story at a distance but “the danger followed us”.
“It was only this last hour that this has all started to unfold,” he said.
“It was pretty scary, really.”
The attack on Walsh came less than 48 hours after an Australian crew from Channel 7’s Sunrise program were turned on by police while covering protests in Washington DC.
Seven News reporter Amelia Brace and camera operator Timothy Myers were giving a live update from outside the White House when they were shoved by heavily-armed police.
Brace was clubbed with a truncheon and Myers was struck with a riot shield.
Speaking on Sunrise this morning, Brace said they were both “worse for wear” today, admitting they were probably running on “adrenaline” in the wake of the attack.
“I can feel across the back of my shoulders where I got whacked by the baton, and we have these welts from the rubber bullets – it’s similar to if you got shot too closely by a paintball gun,” the reporter explained.
“We just are glad that the bullets were rubber and not real bullets – I would have panicked if I hadn’t realised that it was not a real bullet.”
The Australian embassy in Washington DC has reached out to the US State Department about the incident.
Australian Ambassador to the US Arthur Sinodinos said: “We are providing consular support to the Australian citizens involved and my team will continue to check on their wellbeing.”