July 7 bombings: a story of individual heroism and official incompetence

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The courage shown by hundreds of workers and ordinary people who risked their lives to help the victims of the London bombings was matched by "unacceptable" failures by the emergency authorities, an official inquiry into the attacks reported yesterday.

Eighteen years after the investigation into the King's Cross Underground fire, radios for the emergency services are still not capable of working underground, said Richard Barnes, chairman of the inquiry for the Greater London Authority.

And he warned: "If a terrorist attack happened in the London Underground today, the communications would be just as chaotic as they were nine months ago."

A damning picture of official complacency and heel-dragging emerged from dozens of eye-witness accounts by survivors of the bombings, which claimed 52 lives.

Hundreds of people were left to wander the streets and the report said thousands went unrecorded. An estimated 6,000 people, including 2,000 children, may have been traumatised by the events on July 7 when four suicide bombers exploded bombs on the Underground and the Number 30 bus in Tavistock Square but the majority of them have never been traced by the authorities.

Sir Desmond Fennell, author of the report into the King's Cross fire, said that successive governments had failed to carry out his recommendation to install radio systems that could enable emergency workers to communicate with each other in underground tunnels. He said: "I was disappointed and dismayed."

The emergency services were reduced to sending messages like "runners at Gallipoli in the Great War because their telephones did not work". A Marks & Spencer store was turned into an emergency field hospital because of the lack of medical supplies.

Praising the hundreds of emergency workers who braved terrifying circumstances to rescue the injured, Mr Barnes said: "It was London at its humane best." However, his committee uncovered chaos in the communications and a shortage of medical supplies. He said: "We've all seen the film Gallipoli and the soldiers running through tunnels to take information from the frontline troops to the back. That is effectively what we had."

As central London ground to a halt, ambulances fought to get through the congested traffic. But the committee found that ambulance controllers were unable to speak to their crews to divert them to hospitals that were not overloaded with injured.

Mr Barnes said: "The ambulances were over-reliant on mobile phones. The London Hospital at about 10 past 10 said, 'We are full up with survivors - don't send us any more'. Twenty five minutes later, three bus loads arrived. They coped. They dealt with it brilliantly, but they should have been sent to another hospital."

Emergency Response Unit vehicles were officially banned from using the bus lanes, and received at least 35 congestion charge fines in the aftermath of the bombings. Underground phone links were put into tunnels at 9pm on the day of the bomb blasts, but it was hours too late. The survivors had already been rescued.

All the services developed emergency plans after the 9/11 attacks in New York, but they were not properly co-ordinated so that emergency services could work together.

Survivors of the blasts were left "hurt" and "sore" at the lack of care they were offered after the attacks, which left many traumatised. There was the "nonsense" of the NHS which was not prepared to tell the trauma teams who had been treated because of patient confidentiality. When the family assistance centre was set up, names and addresses were collected, but then it was renamed the 7/7 centre and would not transfer those names and addresses because of the Data Protection Act.

A sliding scale for injuries under the criminal compensation system also angered some victims. Mr Barnes said: "If you lose two legs, you get 100 per cent for the right one but for your left leg you get 50 per cent less. That is cheese paring to the worst extent."

Victims said the report raised more questions than it answered and reinforced their demands for a public inquiry. Ben Thwaites, who was travelling in a train behind the one that exploded near Edgware Road, was told by police to go home and watch television.

Mr Thwaites said: "The people who helped - the medics, the police - did a fantastic job. But the worrying thing for me is that this report has turned up so many other elements where there are problems which highlights the fact we need a full-scale public inquiry."

Main findings

* Communications within and between the emergency services did not stand up on 7 July. This led to a failure to deploy the right numbers of ambulances to the right locations.

* Recommendations 18 years ago in the Fennell report on the King's Cross fire to install a communications system for London Underground emergency crews have still not been implemented. Action has been delayed to the end of 2007.

* The City of London Police acted "outside the framework" of emergency plans by switching off mobile phone networks because the overloaded system was "hampering their response".

* Too many of the contingency plans were geared to helping the emergency services, rather than the victims. Survivors claimed emergency workers were prevented from entering the tunnels to rescue the injured, although this was not proven.

* There was a failure to provide support for the bereaved and traumatised survivors. About 1,000 adults and 2,000 of their children are likely to have suffered post-traumatic stress.

Memories of 7/7: 'A girl was trapped underneath me and we had a conversation ... I found later she died'

Carol, On the King's Cross Tube

I knew it was a bomb straight away. It wasn't the noise - no noise at all - just force, sheer force. I must have lost consciousness for a little while; I'm not sure but I think it was only a matter of a minute, or maybe two. The next thing I remember was being on the floor ... I tried to get up and I realised I had lost my leg. At that point, I put a tourniquet on my leg with my cardigan belt because I knew I was losing lots of blood. There was a lot of screaming going on. I remember telling everyone to calm down and be quiet and that help would come - I didn't have any doubt about that at all. I wasn't scared, for me it wasn't traumatic at all. That was very strange; a very bizarre thing. There wasn't any pain; nothing at all really. There was a girl trapped underneath me and we had a conversation. I was trying to, but I couldn't get off her. We held hands and comforted each other. I found out later, after I was pulled out, that she died.

Ian, On the King's Cross Tube

I was unconscious for quite a while down there, so by the time I came round, anyone who could get out had got out, so you were pretty much on your own.I was struggling because I had been by the double doors and once the double doors gave way, I got blown back against the tunnel and as I did so my chest got heavily hit so it was very bruised. I was blown out and then back in. There are electric cables running along the tunnel and that is what I hit. I was blown out and then I was electrocuted and I was just thrown around the carriage like a frisbee, quite frankly; you are semi-conscious and you go with it. There was a lot of burning and blood down the whole left side from that.

Gary, On the No 30 bus in Tavistock Square

The floor went completely up to my seat, and I'm in mid-air with a strand of flooring remaining, keeping me from falling from the upstairs seats. I looked behind me and everybody and all the seats had vanished. I just went into 'flight' mode. I just stuck my foot out and launched myself off. I hit the side of the bus on the way down onto the pavement ... I was just screaming. It is funny, because I couldn't hear anything. It was like somebody had got you and stuck you at the bottom of a swimming pool. You are so disorientated. All my clothes were hanging off me where they had all shredded. It blew the top of my shoe off - a heavy-stitched leather shoe. Then two or three girls came and started to help as well as looking after the other injured arriving outside.

M, on the bus in front of the No 30. He was so traumatised he walked to Shepherd's Bush in a daze. He started receiving psychological care last March

I am at work at the moment but just about ... I was doing a PhD but I had to suspend that. I have virtually no social life. I can't stand being in crowds anymore. Getting to work is problematic at best, but I wanted to have something I could at least focus on just to try to keep going. I'm not too much in trouble with Tubes. I get antzy when they stop in the middle of a tunnel or when it's very packed. It's buses I can't do. That takes me on to parts where I start getting very angry ... I think the Number 30 should have been renumbered without anybody knowing, just renumbered. Every time - and I know I'm not alone in this - you see that bus it serves as a very painful reminder. It might be keeping the spirit of something else alive but it certainly isn't helping the people who were there that day. I have often thought that I wish I had been physically injured that day because at least then people would be able to see something. They see you and they think, 'He's all right' and actually I'm not all right. I'm struggling very badly and I'm not doing a very good job at it but people don't see that.

Comments