Policeman breaks down over 'mayhem' of 7/7 attacks

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The Independent Online

A senior policeman broke down today as he described his attempts to save lives in the "absolute mayhem" of the 7/7 attacks.

Detective Inspector Ian Baker, of British Transport Police, was the first officer in charge of the emergency response to the bombing at Aldgate Tube station in London on July 7 2005.

The inquests into the deaths of the 52 victims of the atrocities heard that he and his colleagues struggled to rescue the injured despite communications problems and fears the attackers could have planted a second device.

Patrick Gibbs QC, counsel for British Transport Police, asked DI Baker: "Some people like to talk about terrible things and others tend to keep them inside. What have you done?"

Becoming emotional, the officer replied: "I've just kept them."

Mr Baker rejected a suggestion by Janine Sheff, representing four of the bereaved families, that he should have urged his superiors to shut down the entire London transport network at 9.30am.

This was 17 minutes before the fourth bomber, Hasib Hussain, 18, detonated his device on board the number 30 bus at Tavistock Square.

The policeman said: "Whilst I might suggest that, I don't think it would be my decision to close down the whole of London.

"All the information I had, had been fed into the control room, that's the central focal point in multiple incidents."

Ms Sheff asked whether he should have taken into account reports of bombs on other Tube trains that he had heard by 9.30am.

He replied: "It is very very difficult to make an operational decision based on that when you have got absolute mayhem in front of you and people dying."

The coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, said she believed Ms Sheff's suggestion had "no foundation whatsoever".

She told Mr Baker: "Whatever criticisms may be made of others, whatever criticisms may be made of the system, on the evidence before me, you have done everything that could reasonably have been expected of you and you did it promptly."

Mr Gibbs also questioned the officer about the fact that he was not given the distinctive silver jacket that would have identified him as being in charge of the rescue effort.

Mr Baker answered: "I would never put a jacket on over pulling somebody out of the train."

He added: "You're just there to rescue people and save life."

The officer told the inquests yesterday that police had a "very real" fear there could be a "dirty bomb" contaminated with radioactive material on the train blown up by Shehzad Tanweer at Aldgate station.

A commuter on the train became distressed today as he relived his attempts to find a pulse on a fellow passenger who was thrown out of the carriage by the force of the blast.

Colin Pettet had to stop giving evidence to compose himself as he described coming across the man lying face down on the tracks with many of his clothes blown off.

He told the inquest: "I tried to get a pulse on him but couldn't find a pulse in his neck or his hands or on his arms. He appeared dead."

Mr Pettet, who was travelling from his home in Hornchurch, Essex, to Victoria in central London, recalled the moment Tanweer detonated his device.

"There was a flash and an exceptionally loud bang, a noise, probably the loudest noise I've ever heard in my life," he said.

"From that point on it went very dark, the train had come to a very sudden halt."

After getting out of the wrecked carriage, he found three people by the side of the tracks who had been thrown from the train by the blast.

They included the man without a pulse and lawyer Thelma Stober, who lost her right leg in the bombing.

The third victim was a stocky man aged around 40 who was sitting upright but did not respond.

Mr Pettet recalled: "I couldn't get a word out of him. He was in complete shock, unsurprisingly.

"He was just covered in soot and dirt, clothes ripped off him and just sitting there staring into space."

Mr Pettet stayed with the man and Ms Stober as other passengers evacuating from the train streamed past along the tracks to the safety of Aldgate station.

He said: "I was spending my time with Thelma. She was screaming to me that she was dying. She was in a lot of pain, her back was killing her.

"She was getting cold so I put my jacket over her because I think she was going into shock."

He added: "No emergency services arrived, there was no help coming down the platform."

Mr Pettet asked the passing passengers if anyone had medical training but nobody came forward, although a young man gave him his trenchcoat to help keep Ms Stober warm.

Firemen started to arrive in the tunnel 25 to 30 minutes after the explosion, the hearing was told.

Mr Pettet was taken to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, for treatment after cutting his hand on broken glass in a carriage door, suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation and damaging his hearing.

After he completed his evidence, the coroner told him: "I am sure that the survivors on the track will always be very grateful to you for your stopping and staying with them to offer them the comfort and assistance that you could."

Another passenger on the Aldgate train told the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London that he immediately feared he had been caught up in a terrorist attack.

Gerard McSherry said: "My very first thought was 'this is something we have been dreading'."

Another of the travellers caught up in the Aldgate blast had not used the London Underground for several years before he got on the same carriage as Tanweer.

Anis Shelwet said: "I can't stand public transport and I hadn't taken the Tube in four or five years."

The blast left him with shards of glass stuck to his hair by sticky soot, the inquest heard.