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7/7 inquests coroner 'rants' against jargon

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Guy Smith | 13:07 UK time, Thursday, 3 March 2011

How annoying is management jargon?

Very, if you listen to the Coroner presiding over the 7/7 Inquests.

On the final day at the Royal Courts of Justice, Lady Justice Hallett hit out at the use of jargon during the London bombings in July 2005.

She said it is really important when it comes to safety at major incidents to use plain English.

The coroner, who is in fact a Court of Appeal judge, told a senior firefighter Assistant Commissioner Gary Reason that management jargon is taking over organisations.

She said:

"All you senior people from these organisations are allowing yourselves to be taken over by management jargon... You people at the top need to say 'We have to communicate with other people and we communicate with plain English.'

I am 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."

She gave the example of a 'Conference Demountable Unit from the Management Resource Centre'.

In plain English to you and me, that's a portable incident room.

Is the Met police in crisis?

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Guy Smith | 12:34 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

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It came to me on the Tube this morning.

And I started scribbling down how many issues Scotland Yard was facing right now.

The list is long: News of the World phone hacking; undercover officer Mark Kennedy and the collapse of an expensive criminal trial; allegations of undercover officers using sex as a technique to extract information from protesters; an officer allegedly sleeping with people he was supposed to be protecting; a top commander giving misleading information to a powerful parliamentary committee; criticisms over the handling of the student protests. It goes on.

"It's hard to remember so many controversies," said former Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick in a phone call when I arrived at work. "The Met's going through a very difficult time."

The Metropolitan Police is also facing a 20 per cent cut in its budget over the next few years.

Mr Quick added: "The budget cuts exacerbate the pressure on the organisation. It's a cumulative effect with a whole series of issues. It's hard to predict (what will happen) but the Met is resilient."

But all these incidents together chip away at what Londoners think of their police force. It's concerning because the Met heavily relies on public confidence and trust to help them do the job.

Their reputation and brand is under attack on many fronts.

This morning I was outside the Met HQ in Westminster and a group of mainly women demonstrators was highlighting one the above issues: undercover police officers apparently having sexual relations with members of protest groups that they infiltrate.

The Met denies that this is/was officially sanctioned.
The protestors claim covert officers with the full knowledge of their superiors routinely used the tactic of "promiscuity" as a way of gaining intelligence.

Sophie Stephens, who calls herself a climate justice activist, said this was "state-sponsored sexual abuse".

Do you believe the Met is in crisis or is it all a storm in a tea cup?

7/7: Incredible courage and humanity

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Guy Smith | 08:00 UK time, Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Eleven weeks of evidence so far and there's still more than two months to go.

Lady Justice Hallett, the coroner at the July 7 Inquests, has now heard from scores of witnesses, who either survived or helped at three of the four bomb sites: Aldgate, Edgware Road and King's Cross.

In mid-January, we'll hear again from passengers and the emergency services, who attended Tavistock Square. Thirteen of the 52 victims were killed there.

And in February, London's fire brigade and ambulance services will have a chance to answer criticisms in more detail, namely why there were such lengthy delays in entering the tunnels to help the severely injured and dying.

Timothy Coulson. Getty Images

Timothy Coulson, receiving an MBE for his rescue efforts during the 7 July bombings in London

We've also heard many emotional testimonies of incredible courage and humanity from commuters, firefighters, paramedics, police officers and London Underground staff.

Two stand out for me. One was Timothy Coulson, a college lecturer. He was a passenger on a train that stopped opposite the Circle Line train at Edgware Road.

He could hear screams and cries for help, and saw the mayhem in the bombed carriage. Along with a fellow commuter, he smashed the window to their carriage with a pole, climbed through, jumped over the tracks and onto the train.

Stan Brewster, who was 53, was trapped in a hole in the floor. Mr Coulson clambered underneath the carriage to check his injuries. It wasn't long before Mr Brewster collapsed, unable to support himself any longer.

Mr Coulson gently lowered him to the track and closed his eyes.

He told the coroner: "As I did so I said a prayer for him, whether he was a religious man or not, because I felt he had finished with this world and shouldn't be staring at it, and I wished him the very best in this world to take with him into the next."

Another example of extraordinary bravery was Gill Hicks, an Australian woman on the Piccadilly Line train at King's Cross.

She lost both her legs in the blast. She used her own scarf as a tourniquet, ripping it apart and tying strips around her limbs to stem the flow of blood.

She told the coroner she then waited for upto 50 minutes in the wrecked carriage to be rescued. All the time she was worrying about falling unconscious.

She recalled being surrounded by a pile of bodies. And said there was just complete panic. Everybody was screaming in the packed first carriage. She described the darkness like thick tar. And heard a female voice, saying: "I'm dying, I'm dying."

A paramedic, a police officer and others finally helped get her off the train on a makeshift stretcher.

The coroner Lady Justice Hallett asked her: "Where did you get such an indomitable spirit? It sounds as if by a determination to live, sheer will power and quick thinking, you saved your own life."

She added: "Until I started this process I had no idea that people could survive injuries as horrific as yours.

"You are amazing, you sound amazing, you look amazing, so thank you."

Most of the journalists covering the inquests have sat in an annex at the Royal Courts of Justice.

One recently told me, he woke up in bed from a bad dream and thought his legs had been blown off.

If that's the effect on those listening, you can only imagine what it has been like for the families, who've lost their loved ones. They've followed every twist and turn on a daily basis.

Finally, it's almost impossible to predict how you would react if ever put in such traumatic circumstances.

I don't know what I would do. Would I stay to help? Or would my own survival kick in and force me to escape the intense heat, soot and dust of the tunnels?

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