A moment of closure for victims of terror

As Barack Obama lays a wreath at Ground Zero, and the inquest into the 2005 London bombings prepares to give its verdict...
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The Independent Online

Six years after Britain's deadliest terrorist atrocity claimed the lives of 52 people in a summer rush hour, a coroner will today deliver her findings from the inquests into the 7 July bombings and seek to lay down the lessons gleaned from the raw and devastating testimony delivered over five months by victims, heroes and rescuers.

Lady Justice Hallett will return this morning to Court 73 in the Royal Courts of Justice, where she heard evidence from 309 witnesses to the 2005 attack on London's transport system. She will outline recommendations for a radical overhaul of safety procedures which delayed help for stricken passengers, as well as closely examine whether MI5 could have stopped the four bombers.

While a verdict of unlawful killing will almost certainly be handed down in each of the 52 deaths examined in painstaking and forensic detail, the families of the dead and survivors hope for answers to questions that have haunted them for the 2,121 days since the bombings: could they have been prevented? What can be done better should extremists again seek to visit mass murder on London's commuters?

John Taylor, 63, whose 24-year-old daughter Carrie was killed at Aldgate, represented himself at the hearings after promising his daughter he would "try to find out exactly what happened".

He told The Independent yesterday: "I do feel angry when I think about what things went wrong on that day – the amount of time it took people to get down there as well as the mistakes of the Security Service. But for us, it is not about placing blame or about pointing fingers, we just want people to admit things did go wrong and recognise where they can be improved."

The verdicts this morning will come five days after the killing of Osama bin Laden, whose ideology inspired Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, his second-in-command Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Hasib Hussain, 18, and 19-year-old Jermaine Lindsay to carry out the worst single act of terrorism on British soil, which also injured more than 700 people.

Relatives will hope that the inquest results will offer a similar sense of closure to that in the air in New York yesterday, when President Barack Obama visited Ground Zero to lay a wreath in commemoration of the lives lost at the World Trade Centre on 9/11.

Starting from last October, after years of criminal investigation by Scotland Yard, the 7/7 inquests were themselves a revelation. The hearings have cost £4.4m and covered a vast remit, from the efficacy of emergency service radios while underground to the extraordinary humanity and bravery which pervaded the minutes after the explosions.

The bereaved families have called on Lady Hallett to use her powers, known as Rule 43, to make 32 separate recommendations on how to avoid future deaths, ranging from a tightening of rules surrounding the sale of hydrogen peroxide – a key ingredient in the bombers' home-made devices – to the provision of first aid boxes in Underground carriages.

In some of the most disturbing evidence heard, witnesses described how a number of victims remained alive while the emergency services found themselves prevented by health and safety procedures from entering tunnels to reach the bombed trains. Tanweer detonated the device which killed seven people at Aldgate at 8.49am, but his victims had to wait for up to 40 minutes before rescuers were allowed to enter the train, and firefighters initially refused to enter the tunnel over fears of a secondary device. Elsewhere, firefighters had to wait for confirmation that current on the rails had been switched off.

Lady Hallett, who could find that such delays contributed to the deaths of some victims, is likely to suggest that police officers, firefighters and ambulance workers be allowed far more personal discretion over when to proceed to an incident site.

The verdicts will also be awaited with concern by MI5. In rare testimony which the Security Service had tried to avoid giving in public, a senior MI5 officer – Witness G – revealed that Khan and Tanweer had been photographed by a surveillance team in February 2004 and the service missed several opportunities to discover that the eventual ringleader of July 7 was a committed extremist.

What they want

Victims' families have made 32 recommendations to the coroner, including:

* Use of plain English by emergency services

* Restrictions on the bulk sale of hydrogen peroxide and liquid oxygen

* First aid boxes on all Tube trains

* Special stretchers in Tube stations

* Casualties not to be declared dead if they are not breathing but have a pulse

* London ambulance staff to be given specialist training in treating bomb and gunshot injuries

* Public funding for the London Air Ambulance, which relies on donations

* Firefighters to be given more discretion about whether to approach the immediate site of an incident

* Better procedures for assessing whe-ther someone is a potential terrorist

* Better analysis of intelligence

* Better record keeping and computer systems for the intelligence services

A father's view: I hope this will help us to be able to move on

Sean Cassidy, a 63-year-old postman from Crouch Hill, London, says he found the inquest "awfully disturbing". His son, Ciaran, 22, died on the Tube train blown up on the Piccadilly line between King's Cross and Russell Square. He was on his way to work at a printing company in Chancery Lane.

His son, who Mr Cassidy says was "interested in football", "having a good time with his friends" and "doing things that every young fella does", was planning to go away to Australia when his life was cut short. For his father, the inquest has been draining. "It has shown the rescue was too late in coming, too late," he says. "The first people didn't arrive until after 10am and the bomb had gone off an hour before. Yes, I am angry and I just hope the judge acts on the recommendations we have drawn up. Especially when it comes to looking at the security system and whether this whole event could have been prevented.

"It seems it was all very poorly organised. We had no confirmation that our son had died for over a week. The families of the victims had to wait for far too long. They had their IDs, credit cards and phones, but their bodies weren't even moved off until two days later. I feel let down by the emergency services and can only wait to see what the judge's verdict will be. I hope this will help us to be able to move on and get this section of it over with."

While Mr Cassidy says he did not "get up and jump around" when he found out Osama bin Laden had been killed, he felt "happy" that he could cause no more harm.

"I think the Americans did well," he says.

A sister's view: I'm not sure that closure exists for victims' families

Miriam Hyman, 32, was evacuated out of King's Cross station to safety on 7 July only to board the No 30 bus in Tavistock Square. Her family found out in the inquest that she died instantly when the bomb carried on board exploded.

The freelance picture editor, known to her family as "Mim", from Finchley, north London, spoke to her father just before boarding to say her journey had been disrupted. Her family only found out she had died four days later when she was identified by her dental records.

Her sister, Esther Hyman, 42, who describes Mim as "my best friend and my irreplaceable confidante", says almost six years on, the family are determined to keep Mim's name alive. "You have a choice, whether to curl up and be beaten and accept the victim's mentality or take the challenge up and do something positive with it," Ms Hyman says. "Mim brings out the best in everyone, and I say that in the present tense, because she is still doing that. She was very positive, loving, generous and inclusive. She protested against the war in Iraq and raised money for charity." After setting up the Miriam Hyman Children's Eyecare Centre in India and working with her old school to create a digital guide to global citizenship, Ms Hyman says the family are focusing on "dampening the flames of hatred, not fanning them".

"I understand why there was jubilation about the death of Osama bin Laden, but if people think it provides closure for the victims' families, I'm not sure that exists," she says. "I can't celebrate a violent death. My sister died violently and I know how distressing that is. He was radicalised as a reaction to violence and by what he perceived as terrorism. We can see this didn't solve anything. If we want progress on a global scale, we need to start talking instead of fighting."

A father's view: We still think about Carrie every day

It took John Taylor 10 days to find that his only daughter, Carrie, 24, had been killed by the bomb at Aldgate on 7 July. Despite frantically searching hospitals in London every day after the attack, he and his wife were one of the last families to be told that their child had died.

Representing himself in court, so that his words "would come from the heart", Mr Taylor, 63, says he was shocked by some of the evidence that he heard at the inquest.

"We found out Carrie was seriously injured and still alive for up to 25 minutes after the bomb went off. In fact 17 people were alive after the explosion and were waiting for treatment," he says. "This was a bit of a shock, naturally, as we all thought they had died instantly.

"We have put forward a list of recommendations to the judge and she can approve them if she wants. We know they could be shelled, but the main thing we all want is to reduce the likelihood of this ever happening again," he says.

Mr Taylor, whose daughter was studying for a degree in theatre and drama studies at the University of Royal Holloway when she died, says: "Carrie is always there with us and we think about her every day. Of course, there are good days and bad days, but wherever we go we always make sure Carrie comes with us."

Talking about Osama bin Laden's death, Mr Taylor says: "It is not the done thing to say you are glad that someone has been killed. But in this case I am willing to make an exception. He was responsible not just for my daughter's death, but for 51 other people's and probably tens of thousands more around the world."

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