For survivors of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings on London, the most important result of a coroner’s inquest may be recommendations for changes at emergency-service and intelligence agencies, rather than the ruling on the causes of death of 52 victims.
Almost six years after the first suicide attacks on European soil, Lady Justice Heather Hallett is scheduled to issue a verdict today. While she can only come to a limited number of verdicts on the deaths: accident, suicide, unlawful killing, lawful killing, industrial disease, or an “open verdict” if there isn’t evidence to support the others, she has the right to issue findings highlighting lessons that should be learned. That is called a Rule 43 Report.
“It’s not the verdict at all,” that will contain the most important information, said Clifford Tibber, a lawyer for the families of seven victims. “It’s the rule 43 report. We have asked the coroner to make 32 recommendations and we hope she does.”
Three suicide bombers set off explosions on underground trains in central London during the morning rush hour of July 7, 2005. An hour after the first explosions a fourth man set off a bomb on a bus. The bombings, the deadliest attack on the U.K. since World War II and Europe’s first suicide attack, were carried out by four British-born Muslims of Pakistani origin led by 30-year-old Mohammed Siddique Khan.
Relatives’ recommendations as part of the inquest have included improving radio communications on London’s Underground transit system and changes to the way the secret service assesses terror suspects.
Hallett, who held the inquest without a jury as is common in the U.K., has been considering her verdict since the review closed March 13. She took evidence from 309 witnesses during 75 days of hearings spread over five-and-a-half months, according to the website for the coroner’s probe. That included evidence from survivors, rescuers, members of the emergency services, the police, London transport workers and a representative of MI5, the U.K.’s intelligence and security agency.
Hallett’s report is “exactly” what people are waiting for, said James Carlton, a lawyer for 10 victim families. “My families are pleased the inquest has ended. They are looking forward to Dame Heather’s verdict and are ultimately hoping she will consider very carefully the Rule 43 submissions.”
In total 56 people were killed, including the bombers. Seven died on a train at Aldgate station in East London, 26 died on a train in the tunnel between King’s Cross and Russell Square stations. Six died on a train at Edgware Road station and 13 died on a bus on Tavistock Square.
The attacks were “an act of merciless savagery,” Hugo Keith, the lawyer who questioned witnesses on behalf of Hallett said on the first day of the inquest, Oct. 11.
In February, the chief of staff for MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans testified that British intelligence hadn’t had prior knowledge of the attacks. The man, whose name wasn’t revealed and who was referred to throughout the proceedings as “witness G.,” agreed the service had “no inkling of what would befall London” prior to the attacks.
Even so, under cross examination from Keith, witness G. rejected assertions that there had been “significant intelligence failings.”
Keith also told Hallett that poor radio communications hampered the rescue operation and health and safety concerns had led to members of the emergency services holding back from entering the tunnels, while ambulances took as long as an hour to get to the sites of the bombings.
Hallett already made it clear to a senior fireman during the hearings that, in her opinion, jargon-laden management speak used by some emergency-service members was a cause for concern because it may have hindered communication.
“Right, so if you turn up at a major incident and you say ‘I’m a crew manager. Don’t worry, a conference demountable unit is on its way from a management resource center,’ what does that tell the person from another agency?” she asked the assistant commissioner of the London Fire Brigade.
“We have to communicate with people and we best communicate by using plain English,” she said March 3. “Sorry if that sounded like a rant, but everybody who has been here for the last few months will know I have been building up to it.”