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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?


  • Comment number 1.

    First of all may I congratulate the High Court on its decision re "no closed hearings". Tragedies like 7/7 must be transparent; the truth must be known; the victims must given their chance to speak so that the world can bear witness.
    In the New Year, it's expected that MI5 will come under intense public scrutiny when the 7/7 inquest examines whether M15 could have prevented the attacks.
    MI5 will face questions about why it failed to investigate the terrorists who carried out the 2005 London bombings when they first came to the agency's attention 17 MONTHS BEFORE THE ATTACKS.
    Some bereaved relatives hold the unshakeable opinion that MI5 should have followed up ringleader Moham-med Sidique Khan and number two, Shehzad Tanweer, after they were seen meeting other known suspects in 2004.
    MI5 says it was buried under potential leads; it didn't have enough information to prioritise Khan and Tanweer. In addition, the agency argues that pursuing this line of questioning could very well undermine national security – even help future terrorists in plotting attacks.
    Graham Foulkes lost his 22-year-old son, David. David was killed by Khan in the Edgware Road bombing, believes the inquest will expose MI5 as a “pretty inefficient service...As a father I need to know what happened and how this was allowed to happen. But also we as a country need to know what happened. We have to have confidence in those who are charged with protecting us.” Mr. Foulkes' arguments are well-taken.
    For too long intelligence agencies have been able to bury any and all potential incompetencies under a blanket of: the necessity of national security.
    Mr. Foulkes: “My level of confidence that MI5 will be truthful, decent and honest is not very high. They have shown themselves to be capable of anything. I think what we see will quite frighten us because we will see slack, loose policies and procedures." Maybe so, maybe not, but surely the victims - dead and alive - deserve transparency.
    Home Secretary Theresa May failed in a legal bid to have secret evidence heard in closed sessions. May's legal team argued that the coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, would not be able to reach accurate conclusions without seeing classified material, which cannot be revealed in open hearings.
    Is it a wonder that Wikileaks is so popular with a public that is literally sick to death of spin and possibly just plain deceit.
    The coroner said the files could be edited to remove names of sources and other secret information, and stressed: “I do not intend to endanger the lives of anyone. I do not intend to allow questions which might do so.”
    The inquest is due for resumption:at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on January 12, 2011.

  • Comment number 2.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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