Memories of the day London came under attack

On the anniversary of the July 7 bombings, <i>The Independent</i> speaks to those caught up in the carnage...

Wednesday 07 July 2010 00:00

The victim, Davinia Douglass: Then and now, the enduring face of the bombings

The sight of Davinia Douglass being shepherded from Edgware Road station with a gauze mask covering horrific facial burns became one of the enduring images of the 7/7 attacks. Five years later, the remarkable healing of the physical and psychological injuries suffered by the 29-year-old can be revealed.

Mrs Douglass has spoken for the first time about her recovery from the burns which disfigured the left side of her face when Mohammad Siddique Khan detonated his device on a Circle Line train.

With her skin bearing virtually no sign of her injuries, the corporate tax expert said she found it impossible to understand the motives of Khan – the ringleader of the attacks – and his three accomplices, but still used the London Underground daily. She told the Evening Standard: "It still baffles me to this day how people can be so brutally cruel to each other."

Mrs Douglass, who married on St Valentine's Day this year, said she initially feared the scarring left by her burns would be so severe that her life would be ruined. She had several months of treatment at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where she is supporting an appeal to fund a dedicated psychologist for burns patients.

The Muslim, Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Our community suddenly became very isolated

The day before, we were all rejoicing that our great city had secured the Olympic Games in 2012. As an ambassador for the Olympics campaign, I was delighted that our efforts had paid off.

Thursday 7 July 2005 cannot be forgotten. It was indeed a watershed event, not only in the lives of Britons, but more importantly British Muslims.

As I waited at Raynes Park station for the train to London, I received a call from my daughter, asking: "Dad, where are you?" I sensed fear in her voice. "What's the problem?" I replied.

She said there has been a huge electrical failure in central London and the Tube had shut down. I sensed something had gone terribly wrong. I went back to my office. In the next hour news emerged of death and destruction on the Tube and the buses. The worst fears had been realised.

Condemnations for the evil and criminal deed were universal, from Muslims and non-Muslim alike. The atrocity had made victims of us all. The dead and injured had come from diverse communities and backgrounds. They represented the great richness and vitality that is unique to London.

The British Muslim position about terrorism or political violence had been clear and categorical. But, like in all societies, there are always the useful Muslims idiots, too, as well as a few sadist criminals, willing to serve as a tool for murder or mayhem. The question is how to deal with this serious problem? Certainly not by throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Post-July 2005, however, instead of tackling the underlying factors, isolating the pathogen and treating it with the strongest medicine, it is the Muslim community itself – all of the two million or more – which seems to have become the subject of mass medication. This medication wants to eradicate anything that is generally diagnosed as "Islamic terrorism", "Islamo-fascism", "Islamo-Nazism" and so on – terminology which is deeply reprehensible, equating as it does a noble faith with ignoble ideologies and criminality.

New initiatives and programmes such as the Prevent and Contest Strategies were introduced by government departments and so-called community experts, which were not only counter-productive, but ineffective in that they isolated British Muslims as a special case rather than looking holistically at the issue of criminality. The cry for a public inquiry remains unanswered. After five years we are yet to know the full facts of what happened, how it happened, why it happened and more importantly the motives behind such hideous crimes.

One finds a sea change in the entire discourse surrounding Muslims; their religious, political and cultural rights and their very place in Britain and beyond, in Europe.

It is of some comfort that the government initiatives and programmes are being revisited and lessons learned. Actions need to be taken by all stakeholders, including the Government and the communities to ensure that all sections of our society feel part of Britain.

If we demonise and politically exclude an entire community, how can we expect social cohesion? British Muslims contribute billions to our GDP, but that's peanuts compared to their potential contribution to our social capital.

The New Labour policy towards British Muslims was crafted by Tony Blair when, days after the atrocity, he haughtily announced that "the rules of the game have changed".

What "game"? What rules? The then Prime Minister had, by his imperious pronouncement, abrogated the Magna Carta and denounced Britain's commitment to all international conventions on human rights. It's time, therefore, that the coalition government took a fair and objective look at the "game" and committed itself to fair and equal roles for all. It is time to move on.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie is a former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain

The Police Chief, Brian Paddick: Normality changed forever after that day

I was in a meeting in my office at New Scotland Yard, when my staff officer interrupted: "There's be an incident on the Tube," she said. "I think you should investigate."

I went to the control room and asked the Commander in charge if it was a terrorist attack. He told me there had been some power surges on the Underground. News of the explosion on the bus filtered through. "That's not a power surge," I said.

So, along with Andy Trotter of the British Transport Police, I became police spokesman for the bombings.

Initially there was chaos and confusion as the police and the other emergency services strove to regain control and establish what had happened. As with any other major incident the ultimate aim was "a return to normality", except "normality" changed forever on 7 July 2005.

The Anti-Terrorist Branch, Special Branch and the Security Services had an excellent track record of combating Irish Republican terrorism, which was formed of traditional hierarchical groups that could be infiltrated, with some of whose members persuaded to inform. With some horrific exceptions, bombings were preceded by warnings. As the perpetrators fled, their getaway was often captured on CCTV, leading to their eventual arrest and conviction.

7/7 and the 21/7 attacks were totally different in conception, even if the goal was the same. Isolated, informal groups formed solely to commit one atrocity designed to kill the perpetrators and as many other random people as possible; innocent people by any reasoned judgement; "guilty" for having supported Tony Blair and his "illegal wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan in the eyes of the terrorists. Traditional hard-nosed approaches to terrorism of the past were not going to be as effective.

Despite the former head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch, John Grieve, having warned that it was communities that would defeat terrorism and not the police working alone, parts of the Met were slow to heed his advice. The raid on a house in Forest Gate, in which an innocent Muslim was shot and nothing at all was found, was apparently based on one uncorroborated source. It raised the question: if members of Muslim communities came to the police with their suspicions, would the police over-react?

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act gave the police the power to stop and search anyone they chose, without reason, within designated high-risk areas. The Met and the Home Secretary designated the whole of London as high-risk and, rather than stopping people carrying rucksacks – the recent bomb of choice – or those with unusually bulky clothing – who may have concealed an explosive vest – the police chose to stop and search a disproportionate number of Asian people, further damaging relations with Muslim communities.

Yet it is the people closest to those who have been radicalised who will spot the danger signs; the changes in mood and appearance, the uncharacteristic behaviour.

The Security Services have too many people whom they suspect may be on the path towards terrorism to be able to keep them all under surveillance; they need communities' help. But it is asking a lot to expect members of a community who have been demonised by some in the right-wing press; who have been seen as the problem rather than the potential solution by some in the police, to name friends or loved-ones as being on a murderous path. There are many times more murderers and other criminals in the white British population than in the Muslim community. The overwhelming majority of Muslims want, more than anything, to live in peace and harmony with the rest of us. Muslim or non-Muslim, we all have a duty to help keep our country safe, whether from fugitive gunmen or terrorists.

Brian Paddick is a former Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner

The Politician, Alan Johnson: This dreadful attack altered the way we tackle terrorism

When I entered 10 Downing Street for our Cabinet meeting on that sunny morning of 7 July 2005, I was expecting a short meeting about London's 2012 Olympics victory and the G8 Summit in Gleneagles.

Two drivers were discussing an incident on the underground that they had been told was a power failure, not an explosion.

The full horror emerged as the Cabinet meeting progressed.

Notes were passed into the room and Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, left. When he returned I could tell from his face that this was no minor electrical fault. London's elation of the previous day had turned to shock and horror as the scale of the carnage became apparent.

If 9/11 had demonstrated that the world faced a new and unprecedented terror threat, 7/7 showed that it could be home-grown as well as imported.

The security services in this country had been enhanced after 9/11. But a much more profound change occurred after 7/7, both in terms of structure and resources.

And as a whole series of plots were foiled (including the failed attack that came two weeks after 7/7) more lessons were learned.

The emphasis shifted from centralised agencies working out of London to a regional structure in which the police played an integral role.

Regional counter terrorism units were established around the country. A total of 3,000 police officers work in counter- terrorism. On one level surveillance teams monitor terror suspects, while on another neighbourhood policing teams pass on intelligence from the public.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, was wrong to attack Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, John Yates, for pointing out the effects of a possible 25 per cent budget cut on counter-terrorism. The Government needs to listen to people like Mr Yates, not admonish them.

Five years on we should remember the victims of that dreadful attack; respect the men and women who risk their lives daily to prevent a repeat and reinforce our determination to provide them with the tools they need to do the job.

Alan Johnson is shadow Home Secretary

The relative, John Taylor: What adds to the hurt is we are still awaiting answers

I was off work on July 7 2005 so I did not get to see Carrie and her mother June leave the house as I normally would. I woke up later and had just sat down with a cup of tea when I saw the news.

At first I was not too worried as it was apparently a power surge, but when reports of a terrorist attack started coming out I got straight on the phone. As the day wore on I managed to get in touch with my wife and my son, Simon, but no one could get hold of Carrie. We phoned her office, who told us she had not turned up for work. When she did not come home that evening, we clung to the hope she was in a hospital somewhere or even just wandering around London, lost or in a daze. It was not until 10 days later that we were officially told Carrie was dead.

The past five years have been very difficult. People ask all the time: "How does it feel?" The answer I give is that you get used to it, but you never get over it. Not a day goes by where I do not think about it. But what adds to the hurt is that we are still waiting for some answers. It is now five years on and we have yet to have an inquest.

Clearly I know the who, when, where and why of my daughter's death, but there are things I do not know. The main one is the response time. I believe my daughter was alive for 20 minutes after the bomb went off and I want to know how quickly the emergency services got to her. I hope that the inquest will tell me that.

We have also gone through these past five years knowing that no one has ever been convicted of helping to plan the attacks. I am convinced there were others involved.

In most murder cases the victims' families have the small comfort of seeing the person who killed their loved one punished. We have never had that. All we will get is the inquest and there was even discussion that we would have to share that with the four men who killed our loved ones. That was overruled, but for a while we had to entertain the thought of sitting in the same room with relatives of the bombers who killed our daughter. It would not have been easy.

The only positive thing to come from this is that it has focused people's minds on the terror threat and how to deal with its aftermath. The ambulance service has changed its procedures and created Hazardous Area Response Teams and the police seem to realise they need to give families as much information as quickly as possible.

It made people realise the real terrorist threat. A lot of people thought it would never happen here, but 7/7 proved that to be untrue.

John Taylor is the father of Carrie, 24, who died in the Tube explosion near Aldgate station

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