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7/7: The Met's response and its consequences

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Guy Smith | 09:45 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010

July 7 Tavistock Bus attack

We were always told there was a serious and potential threat to London.

I can still hear one of the favourite lines used by the former Met commissioner Lord Stevens ringing in my ears.

"It's not if but when."

He was, of course, right. Yet it didn't happen on his watch.

It fell on the shoulders of his successor Sir Ian Blair. He had only been in the job six months.

I remember the stress etched on his face whenever he appeared in public.

It had been only four years previously that 19 hijackers took control of four airliners and unleashed such devastation.

The subsequent so-called "War on Terrorism" was in full swing and there were vociferous critics of that policy.

So I suppose it shouldn't have come as a shock when the capital came under attack. But I admit it did, particularly when we all found out later the bombers were home-grown.

But if I rewind to the day, the first I knew something was wrong was on a train into work. It was just after 9am.

My mum texted me to ask if I was alright as she had heard something on a 24 hour TV news channel.

I called the Met Police's press bureau and they were saying there'd been somesort of power surge on the London Underground.

It wasn't long before it confirmed there had been multiple attacks. I headed directly to Scotland Yard.

Like everyone else, my mobile wasn't working. There was a public phone box outside the police HQ so I called the news desk from there to see what they knew.

I was nervous. This was a huge story, the biggest I had ever covered and it was in the city I had worked and lived in for more than 20 years.

There was a briefing at the Yard but information was sketchy and confusing.

No one really knew how many tube stations had been affected, how many were dead or injured.

It was only later that it was confirmed as four separate terrorist attacks.

The national news was covering what happened. So I reported on how the emergency services coped.

There were harrowing scenes.

Paramedics were dealing with every type of injury from burns to amputations. The walking wounded were suffering from cuts, bruises and smoke inhalation. And then there were those who were dead.

Over the next few days there was nothing else that mattered. The police and security services were working flat out to discover who had masterminded the attacks.

The fear was would there be another. Well, exactly two weeks later there was, albeit thankfully a foiled attempt.

Armed police in London

The July 21 attacks led to the largest manhunt in the Met's history. The authorities were exhausted. There was wholehearted praise for them for their diligence and professionalism.

But the next day was to change all that.

A team from the specialist firearms unit SO19 (now CO19) shot dead an innocent 27 year old Brazilian electrician at Stockwell tube.

The Met was plunged into a maelstrom of criticism, too much to mention here.

The death of Jean Charles de Menezes and how the Met subsequently handled the fatal incident was to severely damage the reputation of London's police service.

It was a story that I was to cover in detail for the next three years.


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