Inside Story: Where we were on July 7th?

When the bombs went off, the media responsed with blanket coverage: dozens of broadcast hours and thousands of column inches. Journalists tell Ed Caesar how they fared


Amanda Walker

LBC News reporter

After reporting from Stratford on Olympic jubilation I got a call from the newsdesk telling me to go to Liverpool Street where a power failure had caused some sort of explosion. Maintenance cock-up (failure) was my immediate assumption.

I arrived just after 10. The entrance into Liverpool Street station was cordoned off by police tape. The guarding officers looked agitated. Hundreds of disgruntled commuters hassled them with questions which at this point were unanswerable. People poured out of buildings as though it was a routine fire alarm. Some yawned, some joked, others used it as an excuse for a fag break.

Slowly out of the sea of faces blackened ones began to emerge. One woman was crying as she desperately tried to phone home. "I can't believe it mum," she wept. "There was just this big bang then glass and blood everywhere. I want to come home." This was more than a maintenance cock-up.

The road I had parked the radio car on was now cordoned off. I asked the police officer guarding it if I could get back to my car. His response confirmed the horror that would continue to unfold throughout that day. "Get your car and leave the area now. A bomb has exploded." His authoritative tone then slipped to personal disbelief: "I've been pulling out dead bodies."

Matthew Bannister
Five Live

Our phone-in on the euphoria of London's successful Olympic bid suddenly changed at around 9:15 when the first report came in of "an explosion at Liverpool Street station". On such occasions, Radio Five Live really comes into its own. Teams move quickly and professionally to scrap the planned output and give all resources to covering the breaking news.

Eyewitnesses began to describe the walking wounded having smoke-blackened faces, immediately reminding me of covering the King's Cross fire as a young reporter. Then the task became sorting through the many different pieces of information coming to us from the police, London Underground, BBC reporters and our listeners. Our approach was clearly to signpost the source of the information and to be scrupulously clear about what was confirmed and what was not.

A caller told us a friend had rung him to say a bus had exploded in Tavistock Square. It was hearsay, and we presented it as such, but it turned out to be true. I was very conscious of the potential for speculation to cause panic. The enormity of what had happened only dawned on me once I came off air and spoke to my daughter, who sometimes travels through Edgware Road on her way to work. I found my hand shaking as I put down the phone.

Terry Kirby, chief reporter,
The Independent

I was charged with writing The Independent's 3,000-word overview of the entire story, which was obviously culled from a variety of sources - drawing on the work of colleagues as well as the web, newswires and television - so I was tapping into just about everything.

Although there were many unbelievable images and words during the day, there was nothing that stood out in the same extraordinary fashion as, say, the images of September 11 of the planes hitting the twin towers or the ash-covered survivors. Although there were awful pictures of the bus explosion, they didn't have quite the same singular impact; that was reflected in the following morning's front pages.

For me, the one thing that hit home was much earlier in the day. I was listening to Radio Five in my car while trying to get into work. They were doing a remarkable job carrying reports from the various scenes while it was still far from clear exactly what had happened. Around 10am, someone who had called in was put straight on air, breathless and excited, and described how a friend had called him to tell him about a bus which had just exploded in Tavistock Square. I realised this was one of those "Where were you when you first heard..." moments, and it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

Thomas Kielinger, London correspondent, Die Welt

July is the month of my birthday, but never can there have been a less trouble-free time in my life than the sultry, sickening early days of July 2005. On the morning of the 7th I was cruising to my Afghan corner kiosk in Turnham Green to get a copy of my own paper to stay in touch with the topsy-turvy world of German politics. I was jolted in my seat by Radio Five Live with the story of the "power surge" that was alleged to have crippled several Underground lines, including my beloved Piccadilly Line. Unfazed at first, I continued with my errands, quickening the pace only when the truth emerged.

By the time I reached my home/office the telephone was already ringing off the hook. Headquarters in Berlin were going bananas, understandably.

After the first three days of frenzied reporting, I had to write the main editorial of the day for Monday's edition of my paper. I struck a goldmine with FDR's inaugural speech of March 1933: "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." That has been my take on how London and the British have reacted to the terror of 7/7 ever since.

Bob Mills,
executive producer, Sky News

It's only hours later that you realise a sequence of purely random decisions make you either a victim or a survivor.

If I hadn't missed a train I would have been arriving at King's Cross half an hour earlier. And therefore somewhere on the Tube when the blasts went off. Ordered to evacuate the station by police, what if I'd taken a different route to walk from King's Cross to Westminster? If there had been any room, I would have been on the double-decker bus that was crawling along beside me, slowly keeping pace with walkers heading away from Euston Station towards Tavistock Square. THE bus as it turned out.

But it was full. If I hadn't decided, at that moment, to pop into a hotel to ring my wife Joan, to say I was fine...

The explosion, muffled for me by the walls of the hotel, was loud rather than ear-shattering. But there was no doubting what it was. Within seconds I was at the door looking at the mangled metal remains 100 yards away. And for a moment... silence. Just bodies, still, on the pavement and people half-jogging, half-walking away from the blast.

I called the Sky News desk. Was I sure? Yes. Could the explosion have been some kind of power outage? No. Are you sure? Yes. A brief pause; a sound check, and then I'm telling what I've seen live on air.

David Stringer
The Press Association

When an officer in British Transport Police's London control room used the word explosion, it became clear events in London on July 7 were extraordinary.

In a routine call moments after the Press Association's newsdesk were warned of an Underground crash at Liverpool Street, he told me staff had reported a "loud bang". "It's an explosion," the officer said, prompting me to bellow across the newsroom and file PA's initial snap - a one paragraph alert - at 9.15am, the first report of the attacks.

Details of the Edgware Road incident and further explosions swiftly followed, but by 9.40am police and Underground sources claimed power surges were the likely cause.

In the confusion, our reporters were told there had been five, then seven, blasts and the National Grid denied any problems with supply to the Tube.

As union sources confirmed to our industrial correspondent that the real explanation was more sinister, there was a sharp realisation of the gravity of events.

Shortly after 10am, a distraught eyewitness told me she had seen a bus ripped apart by another blast.

Within an hour the first deaths were confirmed and it was certain this was the story we had both anticipated and feared.

Trevor Datson
Reuters correspondent

I could see we were going to struggle to get reporters to Aldgate or Edgware Road because of the Tube shutdown, so I told the desk I could get around better than most on my motorbike. They heard there had been an incident round the corner at Tavistock Square, so I went straight there.

I've never experienced a situation so tense, but there was no panic. One of the policemen on the cordons confirmed it was a bomb. People were still walking quietly away from the direction of Russell Square, a few covered in what looked like soot or oil. Hundreds of office workers stood around in knots, talking quietly. Everyone knew there could be another bomb.

The mobile-phone network was down so I ran to a newsagent. When I came out, the cordons were being widened, it was still uncomfortably quiet. A hairdresser grabbed a policeman and said he had two injured people in his salon - I tagged behind them.

Neither of the two women was seriously injured but both were obviously in shock. One of them left; I followed her out and asked what she had seen. She said: "I was on the bus. I looked behind me and all the seats were gone." She asked for directions to Holborn, but wouldn't let me help her there. Her eyes were vacant, she was completely gone.

Matthew Eltringham
BBC News Online

The first e-mail came in at 09:55 - "Apparently there has just been an explosion at King's Cross and people are screaming and running about." A minute later there was an e-mail reporting an explosion at Liverpool Street; another 60 seconds later a report of a third explosion at Edgware Road.

Then at 09:57 the most chilling of all - "My gf has just called to tell me a bus has exploded outside her office in Tavistock Square, bodies strewn all over the road."

By 10:01 e-mails were coming in at a rate of one every two seconds - eyewitness, survivor and worried relative. "It was pure panic down there"... "I was just starting to climb the stairs to exit the station when a loud explosion occurred to the rear of the train."... "I work in the BMA building and we were evacuated. As I got to the ground floor there were people laying in the reception area covered in blood. When I stepped outside the first thing I saw was a body laying on the ground."

Then 45 minutes later the first pictures came in, the first from digital cameras, later more by mobile phone cameras - images of smoke-filled carriages and of the bombed-out bus.

By the end of the day we had received more than 20,000 e-mails, 3,000 text messages and I,000 images. It was a day unlike any other.

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