Judge: No blame for UK agencies in London bombings

AP News
Posted: May 06, 2011 10:13 AM
Judge: No blame for UK agencies in London bombings

Neither intelligence lapses nor a flawed emergency response contributed to the deaths of 52 people killed when suicide bombers struck London's transit system in 2005, a judge ruled Friday.

Judge Heather Hallett's inquest verdict disappointed some victims' families, who hoped she would criticize emergency agencies and Britain's spy service, which had two of the bombers on its radar but failed to pursue them.

Hallett concluded that the commuters were "unlawfully killed in a dreadful act of terrorism" by the four bombers and said that no "failings on the part of any organization or individual caused or contributed to any of the deaths."

Victims' families packed a courtroom at London's Royal Courts of Justice for the verdict, which came after five months of often harrowing testimony. Some said the hearings had given them the answers they sought, but others said only a full public inquiry could answer key questions about whether the attacks could have been prevented.

"There was evidence we were not allowed to see and hear," said Graham Foulkes, whose son David died in the attack on a subway train at Edgware Road station. "It is always going to leave a question mark.

"I just want someone to be man enough to explain to me and apologize," he said.

The hearings revealed lapses in the official handling of the July 7, 2005 bombings of three subway trains and a bus _ the worst terrorist attacks in Britain since the 1988 Pan Am plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Britain's domestic intelligence service _ known as MI5 or the Security Service _ had two of the bombers under surveillance as part of an investigation into an earlier, foiled, bomb plot. They were never pursued because officials were overwhelmed with other threats perceived to be more serious.

Hallett said any suggestion MI5 could have stopped the attacks was "based to a considerable extent on hindsight."

She was critical of the agency's record-keeping and use of surveillance photos, but said the evidence "disclosed no failings by the Security Service that could properly be reflected in the verdicts as a contributory cause of the deaths."

Home Secretary Theresa May, the government official responsible for MI5, said "a considerable number of improvements" had been put in place since 2005.

There were also failures in the response by emergency workers _ confusion, a shortage of first aid supplies and radios that did not work underground.

Hallett said, however, that government errors had not increased the death toll.

"I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that each of them would have died whatever time the emergency services had reached and rescued them," she said.

The judge made a series of recommendations to improve training and emergency-response procedures for police, fire, ambulance and transit staff, and proposed full government funding for the London Air Ambulance service, which relies on donations and volunteer doctors.

In Britain, inquests are fact-finding inquiries held whenever a person dies violently or under unusual circumstances. They can't establish civil or criminal liability, but their recommendations on how to prevent future deaths carry considerable weight.

Victims' families said they hoped the recommendations would be acted on.

"The whole point of the inquest for us was learning lessons from this," said John Taylor, whose daughter Carrie died on one of the bombed subway trains. "I think we all agree that things didn't go right and we should learn the lessons."

But some families were not satisfied that MI5 had come clean.

The government fought to prevent anyone from MI5 giving evidence, but was overruled by Hallett. A senior MI5 officer _ identified only as Witness G _ testified out of sight of the media but in view of victims' families.

Marie Fatayi-Williams, whose son Anthony died in the bus bombing, said the hearings had left a key question unanswered _ "What did MI5 know before and how has it come to light or not come to light?"

Hallett praised the "quiet dignity" of the victims' families, who sat through graphic and detailed accounts of how their loved ones died, as well as the bravery of the survivors who testified.

The inquest _ actually 52 simultaneous inquests _ was a monumental undertaking, involving five months of testimony. The 309 witnesses included some of the 700 people who were injured and fellow commuters who stopped to help, along with police officers, firefighters and ambulance workers.

The inquest opened in October with a reading of the names of all 52 victims and a minute's silence. The names were read out again at its close Friday, as several of the victims' relatives bowed their heads or wiped their eyes.

"When the coroner read the names out, it's always awful," said Rosemary Mayes, 67, whose son James died in the bombing of a subway train near Russell Square station. "We are sort of hoping that James's name is not read out, that it is not on the list, and that perhaps he is living the life of Riley somewhere.

"Of course, that's never the case."


Online: http://7julyinquests.independent.gov.uk/index.htm

Jill Lawless can be reached at http://twitter.com/JillLawless