On Friday, London’s Metropolitan Police responded to reports of shots fired near Oxford Circus, one of the city’s busiest train stations.
Panicked commuters spilled onto the sidewalk and joined pedestrians in running away from the perceived threat, taking refuge in stores under a police directive to stay put.
In the middle of the chaos, the Daily Mail reported that a truck had “plough[ed] into pedestrians” around the Oxford Circus station. In another social media post, since deleted, the paper said that a witness had described seeing “a pavement covered with blood.”
But the severity of the scene as described by the Daily Mail contrasted sharply with the majority of reports coming from the area.
While people shared videos of Londoners running to shelter, the Metropolitan Police had not found any casualties and later announced that its officers were unable to find evidence of shots fired. The Oxford Circus train station was closed briefly, but has reopened.
Twitter sleuths tracked down what appears to be the source of the Daily Mail’s witness report: a 10-day-old tweet.
The message contained a hashtag, #oxfordstreet, that many were using on Friday to share updates from the scene. The problem? This particular tweet was posted Nov. 14.
“There is a lorry stopped on the pavement in Oxford street, police all around it and blood on the floor, it’s definitely the aftermath of something,” Twitter user Dan Smallbone wrote that day.
This Friday, due to the Mail’s apparent citation of Smallbone’s days-old tweet, people turning to social media for updates on the situation in central London began seeing mixed reports, fueling confusion and anger.
The Mail’s report on the incident has since been updated.
Reached for comment, a Daily Mail spokesperson said the publication “deeply regrets” its error, which was “swiftly spotted,” and is investigating how it happened.
The Mail’s statement read:
As in any major incident these days, social media was awash with confused reports from Oxford Circus tonight, many of which turned out to be inaccurate.
It is the job of the mainstream media to strike a balance between reflecting what is being reported from the scene without spreading false facts.
And, despite the fast-moving situation, reporting this particular information that was not in line with the mass of eye-witness reports was a grave error.
The failure was swiftly spotted internally and the story containing the inaccurate information was only live for exactly seven minutes.
Nevertheless MailOnline deeply regrets that it was ever published at all, however briefly, and has instituted an urgent inquiry to establish exactly how it happened.
Meanwhile, London police have stood down in the area and are encouraging people to go about their business after the afternoon’s chaos.
“I saw people running,” one London resident told HuffPost UK. “My first thought was ‘this is a bit extreme for Black Friday.’ Then suddenly a swarm of people came up the escalators. A swarm. It was horrifying. The screams ― they were running for lives and it felt like they were running from something.”
The U.K.’s terror threat level was recently lowered to “severe,” the second highest of five possible states, after a bomb attack on another London train station prompted officials to raise it to “critical.”
This story has been updated with a statement from the Daily Mail.