Safety rules delayed 7/7 firefighters, inquest told

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The Independent Online

Severely injured 7/7 survivors were trapped for more than an hour awaiting medical treatment because safety rules delayed firefighters from going down to a bombed train, an inquest heard today.

Suicide bomber Jermaine Lindsay, 19, blew himself up on a Piccadilly line train between King's Cross and Russell Square stations in London at about 8.50am on July 7, 2005.

But one of the first police officers on the scene recalled it was around 10.15am before fire crews cut away a buckled door so paramedics could get to the worst casualties. After witnessing the horrific scene in the bombed carriage, Sergeant Charles McGrotty ran back to the surface to get medical assistance for the dying and wounded, the inquests for the 52 victims of the 2005 London terrorist attacks heard.

He spoke to a senior member of London Ambulance Service in King's Cross station, who told him he "did not have the resources" to deal with the emergency at that time.

Sgt McGrotty said: "He was very uncomfortable with the information I was giving him."

The inquests heard that the first firefighters reached King's Cross at 9.13am but did not go down into the Tube tunnel to help until after a second fire crew arrived at the station at 9.42am.

Sgt McGrotty, then a British Transport Police constable based at King's Cross, and two colleagues were first sent to investigate reports of a possible explosion at Liverpool Street station.

On arrival they could not find out what the problem was so they returned to King's Cross, getting back at 9.20am.

By this time distressed passengers from the train targeted by Lindsay were beginning to reach the surface.

As the policemen descended to the Tube platforms to find out what had happened, they passed three firefighters at the top of an escalator who said they needed backup before they could go onto the train tracks.

Inspector Kevin Johnson, who in 2005 was also a British Transport Police constable, said: "They were waiting for a second team, which is normal protocol for them due to communications issues."

Christopher Coltart, barrister for seven of the bereaved families, said to him: "The firemen are standing at the top of the escalator watching the injured people come upstairs covered in soot and they have been told of an explosion on the train.

"But their protocols are preventing them from going into the tunnel until two more fire engines have arrived?"

Insp Johnson replied: "I can presume that, yes."

Kerstin Boyd, for the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, suggested that the firefighters were following their protocols about the use of breathing apparatus teams.

While the fire crews waited at the surface, Sgt McGrotty, Insp Johnson and their colleague Sgt Stephen Noon went down to the devastated train.

Sgt McGrotty made his way to the second carriage but could not get into the front carriage, where the bomb went off, because the connecting door had been buckled by the blast.

He could see many passengers were dead or badly injured and realised it was essential to get more help.

"I had to ensure that the information was conveyed up to the top. I was unable to use my radio," he said.

As he walked back through the carriages Insp Johnson told him there were two seriously wounded people underneath the train who needed medical aid.

Sgt McGrotty got back to the surface just before 9.44am and spoke to the London Ambulance Service official and a doctor from London's Helicopter Emergency Medical Service.

He then went back to the bombed train, passing two firefighters on the Piccadilly Line platform who again said they had to wait for reinforcements before going into the Tube tunnel.

"I knew that I needed to get back down to the scene. At that time there were very few emergency services down there," he said.

"There were two fire officers who were stood on the platform. As I went past a discussion was had about going down to the train.

"They indicated that they couldn't go down until they had their full team with their full complement of equipment."

Sgt McGrotty said firefighters were just arriving when he got back to the second carriage some time after 9.45am.

The coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, said to him: "You are somebody who had been misdirected to the wrong scene, you had been up and down to the train twice, and when you get back it is possible that the fire brigade are just getting there and there are still no paramedics on the carriage?"

He replied: "That's correct."

The policeman estimated it was 15 to 20 minutes after he got back to the train before fire crews cut open the damaged door, meaning paramedics could not get to the injured in the first carriage until around 10.15am.

But Ms Boyd said CCTV evidence suggested firefighters entered the tunnel at about 9.50am and removed the door within a matter of minutes of arriving.

Sgt McGrotty said it took up to an hour to get all the casualties off the train, adding that the rescuers ran out of stretchers and had to use items like blankets to evacuate the wounded.

He became distressed and had to pause his evidence when he described how he moved two dead bodies from the floor to give them some dignity so emergency services would not trample on them.

After all the survivors were taken off the train, Sgt McGrotty volunteered to go back down to carry out a search for further bombs and chemical, biological or nuclear devices.

Lady Justice Hallett told him: "What you did went way beyond the call of duty.

"You acted in my view with great courage, humanity and a significant degree of professionalism, and you played a significant role in the rescue attempt, for which I commend you."

A total of 26 innocent people died in the King's Cross bombing, including couple Lee Harris, 30, and Samantha Badham, 35, who lived in Tottenham, north London.

Mr Johnson described finding the pair alive but badly injured after being thrown out of the train by the force of the explosion.

He was checking the carriages for survivors when he heard a call for assistance.

"I just heard repeated over and over, 'help me, help me,' in a subdued voice, a faint voice," he said.

The policeman was confused by the source of the cries, but eventually realised they were coming from outside the carriage.

He found Mr Harris, Miss Badham and a dead man lying between the train and the tunnel wall.

Mr Johnson spoke of his frustration at being on his own with no first aid equipment and no means of carrying them to safety.

"The only thing I could do for them was to give them reassurance and to let them know that help was on its way and we would get them out as soon as possible," he said.

He said Miss Badham was "very still", adding: "When I spoke to her, she spoke back in an extremely quiet voice.

"She had repeatedly said that she was having difficulty breathing and that was as far as the information I got from her apart from her name... She was clearly in a great deal of pain."

The first paramedic who reached the train said he could not treat Mr Harris and Miss Badham because he had to assess how many casualties there were and what resources were needed, the inquests heard.

Mr Johnson said he had to persuade the next two medics to arrive that they should stop and give first aid.

"We had a short discussion because they said that they needed to assess. At which point I said 'You don't need all three to assess, one of you could help here'," he said.

He recalled that paramedics gave the couple morphine and intravenous drips, although he could not remember who received what.

Miss Badham was evacuated from the Tube tunnel first, followed by her partner, but neither survived their injuries.

The coroner told Mr Johnson: "It must have been very distressing to have to learn that despite your valiant efforts, Sam and Lee died.

"But we have heard what a comfort it is to their families to know that you were there in their darkest hour, offering them reassurance and warmth."

Metropolitan Police officer Pc Neil Annals told the hearing there was "very little" that could be done for the most seriously injured victims in the bombed carriage until paramedics arrived.

He said: "The people in that carriage weren't suitable for first aid. They needed major trauma and doctors and fluids. We had none of that with us.

"Our priority was to evacuate them from that area, where they could receive the treatment they needed."