West Midlands police have launched a major search for a suspect after a series of stabbings in Birmingham city centre left one man dead, two people with serious injuries and five others injured.
The lone suspect in the stabbings – which happened in four different areas over a two-hour period in the early hours of Sunday morning – was still on the loose, police confirmed late on Sunday morning.
The police declared a major incident after initially being called to reports of a stabbing at about 12.30am on Sunday, with “a number of other stabbings” happening between 12.30am and 2.20am.
Officers said there were four separate stabbings, beginning in Constitution Hill just north of the city centre, before the attacker travelled south and struck again in Livery Street, Irving Street and Hurst Street. The attacks were being considered as a “linked series”, said Ch Supt Steve Graham of the West Midlands force, although the victims were unrelated.
Graham said the events were “tragic, shocking and understandably frightening”. He called on people in the city to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious.
“Please be assured that we are doing absolutely everything we can to find whoever was responsible and try to understand what exactly happened,” he said at a press conference.
He added: “Already we’ve got people going down drains, we’ve got that level of detailed searches taking place which will hopefully reassure the people that we are doing everything we can do to trace the offender.”
Graham said there was “absolutely no suggestion” the stabbings were terrorism-related. One of the incidents happened close to Birmingham’s gay village, but Graham said there was also no evidence the stabbings were linked to hate crime.
One woman and a man remained in critical condition in hospital, while five others suffered non life-threatening injuries.
Nathan Hudson from West Midlands ambulance service said 14 ambulances were sent to the city centre around midnight. Hudson said the crews were used to dealing with stabbings but there had been an added element of anxiety. “We knew we had an attacker with a knife, going round randomly stabbing people,” he said. “We had an ongoing incident and we didn’t really know at what point that would end.”
There was a heightened police presence in the city centre on Sunday, with significant sections of the affected areas cordoned off and forensics tents erected by police.
One local resident, who had turned up to work at PureGym near Hurst Street, was sent home because he could not cross the police cordon. The man, who did not want to give his name, said: “I didn’t imagine it would be this bad. Stabbings happen unfortunately all the time but it looks like it’s worse than anything that’s happened so far. Nowadays Birmingham is dangerous, especially the city centre. I’m not really surprised. It’s something that is basically happening on a daily basis in Birmingham, stabbings and other violent crime.”
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, tweeted his thanks to the emergency services: “All my thoughts are with those affected by the terrible incident in Birmingham last night.”
The home secretary, Priti Patel, also said her thoughts were with people affected by the “shocking incident”. She tweeted: “Our emergency services are working hard to find whoever is responsible and bring them to justice.”
Liam Byrne, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, said: “This was shocking violence which we just won’t accept in our city. Once again our emergency services did an incredible job running towards the danger. Now we need to get behind the police to catch the perpetrator of this senseless crime.”
The West Midlands police and crime commissioner, David Jamieson, said: “Last night’s events are truly terrible and have shocked the people of Birmingham, the West Midlands and the country. My first thoughts are with the victims and their families at this time.
“I have every faith in West Midlands police who are working extremely quickly on this investigation. My thanks also go to the ambulance and hospital staff who are working around the clock to help those who have been injured.”