Inside Story: The rapid response units

As the terror drama unfolded, press officers were bombarded with calls from journalists across the world. Here they tell Kate Wiggans how they coped with the media scramble
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The Independent Online

* Transport for London chief PR officer Paul Mylrea alerted at 8.51am

* The MET's press bureau alerted at 9am of train crash at Aldgate. By 9.10am they knew there were multiple incidents, including explosions

* Staff at St Mary's hospital receive major incident warning at 9.26am

* By 10am the Muslim Council of Britain had drafted a press release condemning the attacks.

Paul Mylrea, Head of Group Media, Transport for London

By 11am we had taken more than 200 media requests for interviews. We had just revamped our website and the online viewing of press releases increased from 3,775 a day before the attack to more than 32,000 on the Thursday, then almost 95,000 on the Friday. We prioritised the British media, because we couldn't answer everybody; the most important thing was to get the information out

We were concerned about trying to protect our staff from excessive media demands while they were helping the wounded. There were staff who were happy to be interviewed because it was their way of dealing with the issues. We were frustrated by the conspiracy theorists who said we were putting out false information about power surges. It was actually because we were so efficient - we had the information out within 10 minutes of the alert - that we had a power surge. We knew we were dealing with a serious incident, but to define it as a terrorist bomb attack took some time.

Chris Webb, Head of News, Metropolitan Police

The press bureau was alerted around 9am with reports of a train crash at Aldgate. We then started getting reports of an explosion at Aldgate, then the other incidents started to filter in. By 9.25am, all the blue-light services were talking to each other through a conference callthat I set up as part of departmental procedure. By 10.15am, we had a better idea of what we were dealing with. We set up the Gold Communications network, which the Met chairs and which looks at the strategic issues in response to a disaster. The director [Dick Fedorcio] and I then went down and spoke to the commissioner [Sir Ian Blair]. We decided to take him to Millbank to do interviews because we had four separate scenes and the media were having difficulty getting through the traffic. In that first week, senior officers did 250 one-to-one interviews, with press officers taking more than 2,000 calls.This is the biggest thing we've ever had to deal with.

Inayat Bunglawala, Public Relations Officer, the Muslim Council of Britain

As soon as we heard about the attack, we began to plan for the worst. When it became clear it was a terrorist attack, we were inundated with questions from the media, and the key was an unequivocal condemnation of a terrorist attack in London.

It was non-stop, we had to put forward MCB representatives for newspaper and TV interviews. In the main, reporting was done responsibly, without seeking to inflame tensions.

However, it was only a few days before Melanie Phillips [Daily Mail] was quoted as saying Britain was too soft in its treatment of radical Muslims.By Thursday night, there had been arson attempts on mosques. We are mostly volunteers. I was fielding calls all day; it was very difficult.


* West Yorkshire police on-call press officer called into the office at 3am having been alerted to anti-terror raids at addresses in the area

Nigel Swift, Media and PR Manager, West Yorkshire Police

Overnight on 11/12 July our office got involved when our on-call press officer was called out overnight and worked until the next morning. This meant we had time to prepare, because it was the middle of the night and most of the media weren't working. We are quite a big force and used to dealing with major incidents.

Our tack locally was the public reassurance issue, which we felt was a key thing, not just in terms of the addresses being searched, but the day-to-day crime worries of people in the county. We didn't want them to think they'd been forgotten. We were liaising with communities and offering them assistance - it was a double shock for a lot of them because, on the one hand, they have to deal with potential bombers who've come from their midst and, on the other, they have to deal with a dozen satellite vans parked on their doorstep and the whole area being taken over by the media.


* Co-director of National Whitewater Centre, North Wales, Jonathan Gorman receives first calls about bombers whitewater rafting in June. Photos published next day.

Jonathan Gorman, Co-director, National Whitewater Centre

There are two directors here, myself and Paul. It's the busiest time of year for us. We had to take the brunt of dealing with the press. We had John Prescott come rafting and got quite a lot of media attention then, but this has been bigger. Any information we've been able to give we've given, because if you don't, they make it up anyway - or certain tabloids do. To be fair, they are actually very polite, so I haven't got any real complaints. The biggest issues have been the speculation really. The facts are that two of the original London bombers came whitewater rafting, end of story. It was only when the speculation about the second set of bombers coming here came out that it got much busier. The press were not so eager to publish that this information was not true.


* 12 o'clock Press conference held in Birmingham, city council press office alerted early that morning of arrests at Heybarnes Road.

Janet Priestley, Senior Press Officer, Birmingham City Council

The day after Yasin Hassan Omar was arrested we set up a press conference on Asda car park near to the scene. The local community leaders and councillors wanted to have a press conference and we said it would be better to do it at the site because the media were camped there. So we had a community leader, one of the local councillors and district leaders talking about the community sticking together. On the Thursday afternoon the tornado hit so all media and staff attention was diverted. Added to all this on that Thursday there was a by-election so candidates were actually campaigning whilst all this was happening. We have been working all day and all night.


* Aylesbury Vale press office notified they should prepare for possible evacuation of area surrounding Northern Road near town centre. Press conference held the following day

Teresa Lane, Head of Communications, Aylesbury Vale District Council

When we had the raid, we had to set up with the police a press conference time and venue and let local people know what was going on. I also had to protect the reputation of Aylesbury Vale. We're right in the middle of a very big marketing strategy where I'm trying to raise the profile of Aylesbury Vale. There's not much you can do when a bomber has been found in a house in Aylesbury. But what I can do is make sure the media had good factual information like we have nil unemployment here and it's a very prosperous area with great relationships between the different ethnic communities. I knew Wednesday night that the focus would be on community leaders. We have got four or five Asian councillors, so on the Wednesday night we were in contact with them. We had helped set up the two minute silence in Market Square on the Thursday, I had been making sure the Immam went to that. The Thursday when we had the press conference was fairly frantic, I had staff who were meeting the media, showing them where to park, taking them to the venue, directing them to Northern Road, where Jermaine Lindsay lived.


* Visit Britain press office start getting hundreds of press calls about their report on the impact of 7 July attacks on British tourism, published on 21st

Elliott Frisby, Corporate PR Manager, Visit Britain

We started getting busy on the Friday with non-stop calls from press regarding the impact the attacks had on tourism. We didn't have those figures, but we do have an internal group here that meets to assess the possible impact of events and to reassure our staff and that group met on the afternoon of the 7th. The Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group - TIER - met on the Friday morning with representatives from big industry players like British Airways, DCMS and others to asses, gather and co-ordinate intelligence on the impact. We got our first research back that covered the period 7 - 20 of July. That put a figure on the impact of the first incident which was a loss of £300m from inbound tourism.It's been quite mad actually. What with the new leisure visas for Chinese citizens, and London 2012 and then this we have had constant phone calls - its been quite intense.


* News broke about Osman Hussain escaping on Eurostar - neither the cross-channel company nor British customs officials checked his passport on the outgoing train.