Alnwick couple talk of shock at being close to Paris massacre

Melanie Collins and Michael Stembridge in Paris.
Melanie Collins and Michael Stembridge in Paris.

An Alnwick woman, who was at a concert in Paris on Friday night while scores of people were killed a little way across the city, has spoken of her shock.

Melanie Collins told the Gazette about the emotions that she and her boyfriend, Michael Stembridge, felt when the full magnitude of what had happened was revealed and of the ‘strange and tense atmosphere’ in the French capital on Saturday morning, as France and the wider world were left reeling in the wake of almost 130 deaths as a result of co-ordinated terror attacks.

Coun Scott Dickinson with the book of condolence at Northumberland County Council. Picture by Michael Pearson

Coun Scott Dickinson with the book of condolence at Northumberland County Council. Picture by Michael Pearson

The couple had flown out to Paris from Newcastle Airport on Friday morning to go to a concert that night at La Cigale.

The 50-year-old, who is a cake-maker at The Running Fox in Felton, said there were lots of people out in Paris and they were in a really busy area, about 20 to 25 minutes’ walk from the Bataclan, where the terrorists struck at the Eagles of Death Metal gig.

There were four bands playing on the night at the show they went to, but the couple were there to see one in particular – Wolf Alice – and left after they had played at about 9pm, before heading to a bar for a drink.

The France v Germany friendly football match – during which the explosions outside the Stade de France could be heard – was on television, but there was no sound.

Just before 10pm, Melanie’s mum called to see if they were okay and then they were inundated with messages from friends and family.

“What was weird was that the outside world was telling us what happened before we knew what was happening,” Melanie said.

“We could hear sirens, but still the actual scale of it wasn’t apparent until we got back to the hotel and turned the news on. It started to filter through what had happened and what had happened quite near to where we were.”

Her reaction once the gravity of the situation became clear was ‘just complete shock’.

“It could so easily have happened in the concert hall we were in,” she said. “It was very busy, there were lots of people there of all ages and lots of bars around the area.

“You could imagine what it must have been like for people in the Bataclan, how confusing and scary it must have been.

“There was shock that it had happened in a city like that, in a city that’s so close to Britain and that has such good security.”

The following day they decided to go out and while there were still tourists about, there were very few locals out and the majority of bars and cafés were shut as well as all of the tourist attractions.

Melanie described the atmosphere as very tense and very strange, with armed police and soldiers ‘absolutely everywhere’.

“It was difficult to comprehend that we were in the city where so many people had been killed just a mile or so away,” she added.

Her parents wanted them to come home straight away on Saturday, but ‘it was probably the safest place to be with all the police and armed forces’.

It was Melanie’s first time in Paris for about 35 years since a school exchange, but the attacks would not act as a deterrent.

“It wouldn’t put me off from going back,” she said. “I would quite happily go again.

“What we thought once we talked about it and watched the news was that if you are running scared or staying in the hotel, they (the terrorists) are winning to an extent,” she said.

l On Monday, Northumberland County Council opened a book of condolence for the victims of the attacks.