Case studies

The case studies strand of the project is based at the University of Sussex. There is an almost complete absence in the academic literature of detailed description of actual ‘stampedes’ in response to false alarms or of the subjective experiences of people involved in collective flight. This strand of the project will produce a comprehensive descriptive review of collective responses to perceived threats in the last ten years in the UK. Systematically comparing multiple examples will enable the first characterisation of general and specific features of public flight responses to perceived hostile threats.

We are also carrying out two original case studies. In the Bethnal Green disaster of 1943, 173 people seeking shelter in response to an air raid warning died falling down some steps, in what is often described as a ‘mass panic’. We will combine a historiographical account with social psychology to examine people’s perceptions, social influences, and behaviour.

The Oxford Street incident of November 2017, in which nine people were injured, occurred in the context of four genuine terrorist attacks that had taken place in London that year. Like the Bethnal Green incident, the behaviour of the crowd was popularly described as a ‘stampede’ driven by ‘mass panic’. But there is significant variability in behaviour that needs to be explained: video footage shows that many people walked rather than ran, for example. For this and the Bethnal Green study, we will carry out oral history analysis for interviews and data triangulation of secondary sources.


University of Sussex Logo