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London Bridge terror attack inquest hears how lives were torn apart in minutes

Anguish: Julie Wallace and her husband Mark, Sara Zelenak's stepfather, attend the inquest PICTURE: PA

THE harrowing final moments of the eight people murdered in the London Bridge terror attacks were revealed as the inquest into their deaths began yesterday.

Emotional tributes to the three women and five men, who died when three Islamist extremists drove a van along the pavement of the bridge at speed before stabbing people at random in nearby Borough Market, were also heard at a packed hearing in the Old Bailey.

Opening proceedings, coroner Mark Lucraft QC said he would find answers to the questions about how ‘the lives of many people were torn apart by what took place in less than ten minutes of high and terrible drama’.

Some relatives left the hearing, and others sobbed, as graphic CCTV stills of the massacre were shown and the court was told how the attackers slashed multiple victims in the neck.

A total of 48 people were also injured.

The inquest, which is due to last around eight weeks, is expected to examine whether intelligence services missed chances to stop the men. It will also ask why there were no barriers protecting pedestrians in place on the bridge at the time of the June 2017 atrocity, which occured less than three months after an attack at nearby Westminster Bridge.

The hearing will be followed at a later date by a separate three-week inquest for the killers.

Khuram Butt, 27, Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, were shot dead by police at the scene just eight minutes after launching their attack.

Sara Zelenak, 21

A SERIES of fateful occurrences on the night of the attack led to the Australian au pair being in Borough Market, her grieving mother said.

Julie Wallace said her daughter was on a night out with a friend when she was stabbed in the neck in Borough High Street. She told the hearing: ‘On that fatal night, every sliding door slid for Sara to be in harm’s way. She was meant to be working and at the last minute she got the night off.

‘Pri (her friend) and Sarz were going to go to a rooftop bar and couldn’t find it, then Soho, though decided Borough Market would do because it was close to the rugby where they were meeting up with some friends when it finished.

‘At 10pm Sara’s phone rang and her friend said “I’ve finished at the rugby” and so she left her safe haven and walked out into a terrorist attack.’

Ms Zelenak had moved to the UK in March 2017 after saving up for a ‘trip of a lifetime’. Ms Wallace added: ‘Sarz was the happiest she had ever been.’

Christine Archibald, 30

THE social worker gave her fiance a passionate kiss moments before she was killed.

Canadian Christine was in London for a short break while her fiance, Tyler Ferguson, also from Canada, was in the UK for work.

The couple had been out for a ‘celebratory’ dinner before walking over London Bridge.

Mr Ferguson said: ‘At one point Chrissy stopped me out of nowhere, gave me a passionate kiss and told me she loved me. Then the attack happened.’ She died in his arms after being hit by the van.

Describing her as ‘the most caring human being I have ever met,’ he said: ‘I still love Chrissy more than life itself. She was my angel. I know that she is always watching over me.’ Ms Archibald’s engagement ring was lost in the attack but later recovered. Mr Ferguson wears it on a neck chain.

Ms Archibald, who was a twin, was ‘shy and polite, gentle but determined, tall and beautiful’, her father Greg told the inquest.

Kirsty Boden, 28

THE nurse, who grew up in Australia, was stabbed in the chest after rushing to help victims.

She was found collapsed in a side street close to London Bridge a short time later.

Ms Boden, who moved to London in 2013, had been for a meal with friends at Boro Bistro restaurant when she heard the sound of the van crashing and went to see if she could help.

Her partner, James Hodder, told the inquest he was still ‘in awe of her bravery’.

But people who knew Ms Boden, a senior staff nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, in central London, were not surprised by her actions. ‘To Kirsty it would not have seemed brave,’ he said.

The accountant, who lived in Hampstead, north London, with Ms Boden, said he was ‘still head over heels in love’ with her, adding: ‘I miss her so much.’

Her father, Ken, said: ‘We miss Kirsty every second of the day. There is a hole in our hearts that will never heal.’

James McMullan, 32

THE entrepreneur, who was a dual British and Filipino national, had been out celebrating getting financial backing for his online education company on the night he was killed.

Grieving: James’s parents Simon and Mila attend the inquest PICTURE: GETTY

Mr McMullan, from Brent, north-west London, died after being set upon and stabbed in the chest in Borough Market. He had been watching the Champions League final with friends in the Barrowboy and Banker pub, but popped outside to have a cigarette.

His sister Melissa said he called their mother Mila the previous morning. ‘He was excited, giddy. He told her how everything was going to be OK, that he was going to be able to look after her,’ she said. Mr McMullan’s father, Simon, described his son as ‘funny, charming and clever’ and said ‘his fearlessness could never be underestimated’.

Xavier Thomas, 45

Love story: Xavier’s partner Christine who was badly injured, yesterday. Below, the couple together PICTURE: GETTY

THE French father-of-two was on a weekend break when he was hit by the van as he walked across London Bridge with his girlfriend Christine Delcros. Mr Thomas was on the phone to his son Nicolas, then 17, at the moment he was struck.

He was thrown into the Thames, where his body was recovered downstream in Limehouse three days later. His partner of two years was struck and seriously injured in the attack. She wept as she paid an emotional tribute to Mr Thomas, an American Express employee, in French from the witness box, telling the court of their ‘passionate love story’. She said: ‘Since Xavier disappeared our whole world has fallen apart.’

Mr Thomas, who had arrived in London on the day of the attack, lived near Paris. He had two children from a previous marriage. His stepfather, Philippe Pesez, said: ‘On June 3 2017, barbarians who can in no way be described as humans took his life and destroyed his family.’

Ignacio Echeverria, 39

THE Spanish banker, later dubbed ‘the skateboard hero’, was knifed in the back as he tried to fight off attackers with his skateboard outside Lobos restaurant in Borough Market.

He used the improvised weapon to save Frenchwoman Marie Bondeville from being stabbed to death. The HSBC analyst, who had been in London a year, was cycling with friends when he stopped to help others. He was given a posthumous George Medal for bravery by the Queen.

Alexandre Pigeard, 26

THE waiter was stabbed in the neck and chest close to the Boro Bistro restaurant, where he had worked for nine months.

His body was found near Southwark Cathedral, not far from his home.

His father Philippe, who is a singer in band Tanger, said the death left him ‘devastated’ and ‘inconsolable’.

Paris-born Alexandre, a DJ and member of musical collective Club 808, was described as a ‘charming and sensitive’ man. He had lived in London for two years.

Sebastien Belanger, 36

THE Frenchman, head chef at Coq d’Argent in the City, was drinking in the Boro Bistro when he was stabbed ‘repeatedly’ in the torso.

Chief coroner Mark Lucraft QC told the inquest that despite being confronted by three knife-wielding attackers, he had ‘bravely fought back’ before he was killed by ‘quite horrific injuries’.

His mother Josiane Belanger said: ‘We miss him so much, his smile, his joie de vivre.’