The fingerprints of the ringleader of the 7 July bombings could have been on police records 19 years before the attacks, it emerged yesterday as forces came under pressure to explain why the discovery had only just been made.
Two sets of prints of Mohammad Sidique Khan, who killed himself and six people when he set off a bomb on a Circle Line Tube train at Edgware Road on 7 July 2005, were found relating to two separate offences. The first related to an arrest in April 1986, for involvement in stolen goods, while the second was taken in February 1993, when Khan was arrested for assault.
It is unclear why the discovery has only recently been made. One theory is an inconsistency in the spelling of Sidique Khan on the files that could have made the records untraceable in the initial search. The records are understood to have come to light after West Yorkshire Police was ordered by Scotland Yard to search if the prints were still held as it prepares for the upcoming inquests for the 52 victims that died in the attacks.
Details of the discovery emerged at a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London where officials were deciding on the course of the inquestse.
Khan, 30, from Dewsbury, near Leeds, was one four perpetrators of July 2005 bombings, which killed 52 people. Three suicide bombers under his command murdered another 46 travellers in separate attacks that day on two other London Underground trains and a bus. Though MI5 was aware of Sidique Khan before the bombings, the discovery of his fingerprints is unlikely to have made a difference to preventing the attacks.
West Yorkshire Police said in a statement: "In preparation for the inquests into the events of 7 July 2005, West Yorkshire Police recently found two sets of fingerprints in its archives belonging to Mohammed Sidique Khan, of which it was previously unaware.
It continued: "Having found this information, West Yorkshire Police considered it appropriate to disclose it to the coroner to the inquests.
"West Yorkshire Police are making inquiries into these records and continuing preparations for the forthcoming inquests."
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "The Metropolitan Police Service first approached West Yorkshire Police on 10 July 2005 to establish whether they held information, including fingerprints, relating to Mohammad Sidique Khan. We were informed on 11 July 2005 that no fingerprints were in existence.
"In our role assisting the coroner in gathering any information or evidence which may be needed for the hearings the Metropolitan Police Service has liaised with a number of parties in recent weeks, including West Yorkshire Police, who we asked to check and confirm that the position they set out in 2005 was accurate."