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Friday, March 24, 2006 

The 7th of July: The need for an independent inquiry.

It seems that we may well have been lied to. We were repeatedly told of how brave, how fast and how quickly the emergency services had came to the rescue of those who were trapped and injured by the suicide bombings on the underground on the 7th of July. Many of them were honoured in the New Year's list. Now at a London Assembly review hearing those who survived have been giving evidence which in places seems to contradict those reports:

The ex-fireman who was pictured helping survivors of the 7 July London bombings has criticised the ambulance service for its response to the attacks.

Paul Dadge, who was at Edgware Road, said the London Ambulance Service (LAS) was "slow to respond".

He spoke at a London Assembly 7 July review hearing which is looking at what lessons can be learnt from the attacks.

Another survivor called for aircraft style lighting, first aid kits and a reintroduction of guards on trains.

Mr Dadge told the committee: "There was a severe lack of medical supplies and equipment.

"London Ambulance Service was slow to respond in numbers and was eventually backed up by St John's and the Red Cross."

Martin Flaherty of LAS said the events of 7 July were "unprecedented" but did accept there were some delays in replenishing supplies and equipment .

"We are looking at how to speed this process up to enable us to support multiple incident sites more effectively in future," he said.

A common criticism made of London Underground (LU) and the emergency services was poor information being given to victims on the day.

Kirsty, who was caught up at King's Cross, said: "There was a complete lack of guidance.

"I went around for a while not really knowing what to do. I wasn't contacted by anyone despite giving the officer my phone number."

This proved problematic when she submitted a compensation claim. She said: "Police had no record of my involvement."

Michael, told how he escaped from a bombed train by walking down the track at Aldgate.

He told the committee: "I walked up on to the platform and asked the first group of firemen why they weren't down there - there's people dying down there - and they wouldn't look at me.

During another hearing it emerged that LU's radio systems did not work properly and it had to rely on workers running into tunnels to find out what was going on.

Survivors of the July 7 terrorist attacks yesterday condemned the emergency operation that followed and called for procedures to be overhauled.

Commuters travelling on the three targeted tube trains accused the authorities of being under-prepared and of doing too little for those injured and traumatised.

One man claimed that in the immediate aftermath of the Aldgate bombing, two passengers pushed forward to see what had occurred and said: "Great, wow."

Another told how passengers fought to help a badly injured man but were forced to watch as his life ebbed away. A third said he asked a train driver to open the first aid box but was told he did not have the key and the box would be empty.

The survivors, six men and six women, told the London assembly's July 7 review committee that as people lay injured and dying in the tunnel after the Aldgate blast emergency crews stood on the station platform, their deployment delayed because of fears of a secondary explosion. Seven people were killed at Aldgate.

None of the survivors gave their full names. One passenger, Michael, said he saw two police officers as he and other passengers made their way down the track. "I said 'where are the rest of you? People are dying down there'," he said. "I was told not to worry about that. I walked on to the platform and asked the first group of firemen 'why aren't you down there?' They wouldn't look at me."

Michael said he believed there could have been a search for volunteers willing to enter the tunnel at that early stage. "My grandfather led a rescue service in the blitz. He went in when the bombs were dropped and places were on fire. If senior officers had said 'there could be a secondary explosion but are there any volunteers?' many fireman would have said yes."

The session was opened by John, a passenger on the carriage destroyed by Mohammad Sidique Khan at Edgware Road, killing six commuters. He described seeing "an orange fireball", adding: "I thought I was going to die. Horrific loud cries and screams filled the air, together with smoke." He and other passengers realised that people at the opposite end of the carriage had been seriously injured. He said that on moving toward the blast scene he "walked into an unknown hell".

At the centre of the carriage he fell through a hole and dangled above the live rail. Another passenger pulled him out.

He said a seriously injured commuter called Stan who had fallen through another hole. "Stan was calm and conscious and he was looking at me. I repeatedly told him not to worry and that help was on its way. He never shouted out or cried. He knew he was dying. He remained calm and peaceful."

Twenty-seven passengers died on the Piccadilly line train. Many suffer post traumatic stress. Speakers called for improvements including the reintroduction of guards on trains, first aid tuition in schools and more spending on training and equipment for emergency services.

It's just another question of what really happened on the 7th of July. Only one of the bombers, Mohammad Siddique Khan, has been properly linked with extremist networks. There are growing suspicions that MI5 had been monitoring the individuals, and that there may well have been failings by the intelligence services. Why was the original story on the day that there had been power surges on the lines, while it quickly became clear that there had been 4 explosions? Why did one of the bombers target a bus instead of a train? Is it possible that these men may well have been tricked by Sidique Khan, possibly thinking they were drug mules, only instead to have their backpacks explode by remote detonation? Why did the bombers leave a car behind which apparently had more explosives in it, when if they knew what they were about to do, they were obviously not going to return? Were the emergency services really as well prepared and as efficient as we have been told they were?

There are plenty of other questions about what happened, including about the apparent copycat attacks on July the 21st which either failed or were meant to fail. So far the government has refused to allow an independent inquiry in to what happened on both of those days, instead saying that a "narrative" will be given at a point in the future. It smacks of the government trying to cover up both for its own failings, and indeed policy failings, such as the Iraq war making this country even more of a target for Islamist extremists. Rachel from North London's father was insulted by Charles Clarke when he tried to question him about the need for such an inquiry. Her honest, heartbreaking and dignified blog on its own should should shame him into doing the least he can; order that inquiry.

You can also sign the petition calling for such an inquiry here.

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