Anger flares at 7/7 medics' delays

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The first paramedic to arrive at one of the 7/7 bombings refused to take seriously injured victims to hospital because he said his job was to stay at the scene, an inquest heard yesterday.

Andrew Cumner was driving the first ambulance to arrive at Aldgate Tube station, where seven people died. But when firefighters asked him to take the injured to hospital he declined, saying he was "incident officer" and had to remain at the scene and assess how many more ambulances were needed.

His refusal prompted an angry reaction from firefighters, one of whom shouted: "Give me the fucking keys and I'll drive the fucking ambulance."

The clashes between the different emergency services were revealed at the inquest into the deaths of the 52 innocent people murdered on 7 July 2005.

It is not the first time that the coroner has heard evidence that points to frustration at the perceived lack of action by ambulance crews at the scenes. Earlier this week the inquest heard from a senior police officer who told how paramedics refused to enter the tunnel at Aldgate after the explosion.

Inspector Robert Munn, of British Transport Police, explained how the paramedics would not enter until it was confirmed by Transport for London that the electricity was off. Even when Insp Munn stood on the tracks to prove that they were not live, they refused to enter until a TfL employee confirmed that the power was down.

Yesterday's hearing was also told how paramedics voiced their own complaints about the lack of equipment and leadership on the day of the explosions. The grievances were aired at a debriefing session at the end of the day, the hearing was told.

Minutes from the meeting show these included "communications very difficult to get through", "not enough pain relief in packs" and "five different people telling you five different things".

Paramedics based in Camden, North London, complained that they were left to watch the events of 7 July unfold on television before being sent to help survivors.

The memo records that they said: "We felt we were badly deployed – we waited a long time before being deployed." There were also concerns that old oxygen cylinders sent to one bomb scene could not be used, apparently because nobody had the key needed to turn them on.

Suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer detonated his device on an eastbound Circle Line train at Aldgate at about 8.50am on 7 July. Mr Cumner – who in 2005 had 22 years of experience as a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service – arrived about 20 minutes later with his colleague Andrea Ray.

Fire crews told Mr Cumner that he needed to take wounded survivors – including Emma Brown, who had severe shrapnel wounds to her stomach – to hospital for treatment. Mr Cumner wrote in debrief notes after the incident: "Firefighters insisting that we take a number of casualties at the station entrance.

"I declined, explaining that we were the first ambulance on and could not convey any patients but had to evaluate the situation, and I had to take on the role of incident officer until relieved.

"This was met by some hostility and panic from the firefighters, with comments such as 'Give me the f-ing keys and I will drive the f-ing ambulance.'" Mr Cumner then added in brackets: "Not helpful".

Sean Clarke, the first senior firefighter to arrive at Aldgate, told the inquest: "We are always taught about the golden hour, how to get people out of a situation and get them care as quickly as possible within the first hour. And, naively perhaps, we think that the ambulance service are there to do that, to ferry them off and get them away from the situation."