Evacuation measures criticised

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The Independent Online
The discovery of the bodies of Inan Bashir and John Jefferies beneath the debris of the South Quay complex, has fuelled criticism of the way Scotland Yard handled the evacuation.

Docklands workers and residents are questioning why, when the IRA coded warnings started coming through just after 5.30pm on Friday, there were still so many people on the Quay 90 minutes later when the bomb detonated. Yesterday they said police advice and warnings were confused, contradictory and low key.

Neville Walker, his face swollen, bruised and cut, said he had been evacuated from his offices, a few yards from the seat of the blast, only to be told he could go back in 10 minutes later. He went back to his desk on the fourth floor at Franklin Mint and 30 minutes later was struck by flying glass and what he believes was a computer terminal.

Speaking just after he his release from the Royal London hospital, where he received 30 stitches to his back, neck, shoulders and face, he said: "I was amazed that we were told to go back in. They gave us the all-clear. We went back in and this is what happened. I felt bits of glass fall over me."

Carolyn Vautier, a 28-year-old officer worker. who had been at the bomb site only minutes before the explosion, said she had been turned away by police as she went to buy a ticket at South Quay station. "Perhaps they did not want to create a panic. But there was no sense of urgency. There were quite a few people around and others were able to amble along."

Steve Holmes, owner of the nearby Tradewinds bar, damaged by the blast told reporters afterwards: "No one had said a word to us and people were coming and going freely. When the bomb exploded the ceiling fell in on top of us and there was glass everywhere. Only then did they come and evacuate."

But yesterday Scotland Yard was adamant it had been neither slow nor confused in its reactions. A spokeswoman said yesterday that it was first alerted to the possibility of a bomb at 5.40pm on Friday. "This was a massive task. We immediately sent police and explosives experts to the scene. The warnings were imprecise. We did not know exactly where the bomb was so or when it was likely to explode. We evacuated the station because that appeared the most likely scene."

It appears that later it received information that alerted police to the fact that the bomb may not be in the station itself - but nearby. But she added that it was police policy not to evacuate the office blocks nearest to the suspected bomb-site, because people were safer inside than out - unless the bomb was under a particular building.

Asked why police had not evacuated the newsagents shop where the two men had died, the spokeswoman said: "It is too early to say. It can only have been because it was considered safer."