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Leading article: A legacy of courage and compassion

One summer's day in July 2005 we discovered something about ourselves as a nation. The short-form of the date, 7/7, was seared into the British consciousness just as 9/11 had been for citizens of the United States four years before.

The bombs that tore through three Tube trains and a London bus could have ripped apart something precious in our national psyche. But if it was a terrible test it was one we passed. There was no backlash against our Muslim community. Normal life resumed. But it is only now, six years on, as the inquests into the deaths of the 52 victims of the bombings come to a conclusion, that we fully understand.

There will be lessons from the inquests – about the chaotic responses in our emergency services, and failings in our intelligence services – but those are for another day. There is a more profound legacy revealed by the 19 weeks of evidence of the detail of that traumatic day. Amid the accounts of tragedy and terror, tales have emerged of great courage and compassion. Strangers cradled the injured as they took their last breath. Others struck out into the darkness to answer shouts for help, not knowing what dangers they might face.

The coroner told one woman that her story was "truly inspirational – the triumph of human spirit over dreadful adversity". So it was. But those words apply equally to so many of the actions of ordinary British citizens that day. Their heroism gives the lie to the idea that we live in a world of selfishness and apathy.

Those with military or medical backgrounds offered living proof of Aristotle's notion that character and courage are brewed in the crucible of habitual good behaviour. Their training kicked in and they climbed bravely from safe spaces and walked into the unknown – or brought the cool art of the possible to bear on awful situations.

But others acted out of instinct – responding to human cries of anguish, unable to imagine what they could do – and brought comfort to the dying moments of people they had never before met. Theirs are not famous names. But they have shown us something of which the British people – of all races and religions – are capable.