7/7 officer tells of frustration over firefighters

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A senior policeman spoke today of his frustration at firefighters who refused to enter a Tube tunnel to rescue survivors of the July 7 bombings despite being shown it was safe.

Inspector Robert Munn stood on the power rail to demonstrate the electricity had been switched off and said to them: "It's this way boys, do you want to come and join us?"

But the firemen said safety rules meant they could not go onto the tracks until London Underground staff confirmed there was no danger.

Insp Munn said the delay lasted only seconds but was "very frustrating" as he struggled to deal with the carnage left by suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer's attack at Aldgate station on July 7 2005.

He also described how he had to grab a camera from a female passenger to stop her taking pictures of the devastated carriage, in which seven people died.

Insp Munn, 46, of British Transport Police, took charge of the emergency evacuation of the Circle Line Tube train, the inquest for the 52 victims of the attacks heard.

But he kept having to return to the station to send messages back to his control room because his radio did not work in the tunnel.

There was confusion about information communicated from the scene, and Insp Munn was frustrated he had to repeat that the incident was caused by a bomb.

The officer recalled finding a group of firefighters waiting in full kit on the station platform.

He told the inquest: "I tried to get them to come down. One of them told me they weren't allowed on the tracks until the current was confirmed as being discharged.

"At that point I stood on the third rail and said to them, 'the power's off'. And they said, 'we have to have it confirmed by London Underground staff'.

"There was a member of London Underground staff on the platform who I shouted to. I said, 'is the power off?' and he confirmed it.

"This seemed to take forever. In reality it was probably a matter of seconds."

Up to four other firefighters were already working in the bombed carriage by this time, the hearing was told.

Insp Munn agreed it was "correct protocol" for emergency services to check the power was off and praised the work of firefighters at Aldgate that day.

"The delay that I saw, although very frustrating at the time, was a very short period of time that they were actually within my vision," he said.

Insp Munn, who in 2005 was based in Stratford, east London, and is now stationed in Ipswich, Suffolk, described the stream of dazed passengers that came off the bombed train.

"Some were walking relatively normally, some were close to panic, some were injured," he said.

"Chaotic, pandemonium are the usual descriptions, and words cannot really describe the noise, the smell, the general sense of confusion down there."

As he was evacuating the survivors, a woman stopped to take a picture of the wrecked Tube carriage, the inquest heard.

Insp Munn said: "A female passenger stopped and said, 'hang on a minute', and rummaged in her bag to get a camera out to start trying to take some photographs.

"In doing this she was holding up the crocodile of people that we were evacuating that were behind her...

"It was causing some agitation within the rest of the passengers, and abuse and derogatory comments were being shouted forwards towards her."

The policeman asked the woman to stop taking pictures as politely as possible but she ignored him.

In the end he snatched the camera from her and threw it on the ground.

Insp Munn said his radio's failure to work in the tunnel, forcing him to keep running back to the station to pass vital messages back to his control room, "made life very difficult".

He told the hearing he understood British Transport Police were looking into this problem at the time of the bombings.

Insp Munn told his control room at about 9.17am that the explosion on the train was caused by a bomb.

But when he called again 20 minutes later, the operator appeared not to know this and he had to repeat that a bomb had gone off in the carriage.

He told the inquest that he heard radio transmissions about the other blasts in the capital that day.

"This just reinforced my initial concern around secondary devices. The magnitude of the attack that London was under at that time was unprecedented," he said.

Detective Constable Antonio Silvestro, also from British Transport Police, said the soot-covered survivors emerging from the tunnel at Aldgate were like something from Michael Jackson's Thriller video.

Sergeant Neal Kemp, a City of London Police explosives search expert, told the inquest of his concerns that there could be more explosives hidden on the train, as happened in the March 2004 Madrid bombings, which killed 191 people.

He said: "It wasn't a huge amount of time since Madrid. In Madrid there were multiple bombs on the trains, and I genuinely feared that there was going to be a secondary device on this train."

Asked what lessons could be learned from the emergency service response to the attacks, Sgt Kemp said the "biggest distraction" was radio problems that meant he had to leave the tunnel to contact his control room.

He went on: "I've lost hundreds of hours of sleep thinking about it but I would still do almost exactly what I did do on the day given what presented and as it presented to me."

Suicide bombers Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, Tanweer, 22, Hasib Hussain, 18, and Jermaine Lindsay, 19, launched co-ordinated attacks on three Tube trains and a bus on July 7 2005 in the worst single terrorist atrocity on British soil.

The inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London was adjourned until tomorrow, when it will hear legal argument about the use of top secret MI5 evidence.