London bombings report highlights flawed planning

Flawed emergency planning and communications breakdowns marred the response to last July’s London transit bombings, says an official report published on Monday.

The London Assembly’s report highlights both the heroism and the confusion of emergency crews responding to the bombs, which killed 52 commuters and four bombers and left about 700 people injured.

One of several inquiries into the attacks, the report describes how rescuers’ phones and radios failed, and some hospitals relied on staff running to and from bomb sites to gather information.

The report includes harrowing testimony by survivors, who gave evidence to London Assembly politicians at a series of private and public sessions.

The 700-page report makes about 50 recommendations for improvements to emergency response procedures.

”London’s emergency plans have been tested, practiced and refined but on 7 July it was clear that they ignored the needs of many individuals caught up in attacks,” said Richard Barnes, who chaired the inquiry.

”They focused on incidents but not individuals, and processes rather than people.”

The report said hundreds of people were left to wander away from the scenes of the four explosions with little or no effort to identify them. The report estimated that 1 000 adults and twice as many children had suffered from post-traumatic stress, but few of those had been identified by authorities.

Survivors said they would continue to press for a full public inquiry into the bombings. They say evidence heard by the assembly and released in two separate British government reports falls short of the standard set by the commission into the September 11 2001, attacks in the United States.

”This is the only public interrogation so far of any of the evidence, and it has turned up a huge number of problems with planning and resources,” said Rachel North (35) who survived the subway bombing near Russell Square station, which killed 26 people.

”As this inquiry had limited powers and a limited scope, it only raises questions about what a full public inquiry would find,” she said.

Survivors reject the government’s claim that a public inquiry would divert too many resources away from counterterrorism work and would likely match the scale of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, a seven-year, £150-million ($280-million) probe into the 1972 killing in northern Ireland of Catholic demonstrators by British soldiers.

North said survivors were holding meetings with Home Secretary John Reid and hoped to convince him a 9/11 commission-style inquiry was viable.

Since November, the five-member London Assembly committee has heard evidence from the heads of London’s emergency services, transport officials, hospital staff and survivors of the bombings, which hit three subway trains and a double-decker bus.

The inquiry heard that, although commanders at London’s Metropolitan Police had decided not to disrupt cellphone services following the bombings, networks were disabled on the order of City of London police — a smaller force which covers a section of central London.

The order affected millions of calls and left the majority of ambulance crews and hospital staff unable to communicate for hours.

Tim O’Toole, managing director of London Underground, said the subway network’s ”very old radio technology” also broke down following the blasts, halting vital communications. He acknowledged an improved system would not be in place until next year.

The Metropolitan Police also is due to get a new radio system, but not until 2008.

Judith Ellis, a nurse at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, told the inquiry that, unable to assess events, staff ran to and from the nearest blast site to receive and deliver messages.

Gareth Davies, a doctor at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, said ambulance crews also relied on word-of-mouth messages to know where to deliver patients. It led to some hospitals receiving too many patients, while others had too few.

Paul Dadge, a first-aider who assisted at Edgware Road station, told the inquiry how medics quickly ran out of supplies and used first aid kits from the nearby Marks & Spencer clothing store.

Fire brigade officials acknowledged they were unable to cope with their workload on the day and needed at least six extra fire trucks.

Several survivors who testified requested anonymity, including a subway driver on the attacked Russell Square train, who described how he raised the alarm and then returned to the train to assist more than 100 passengers in a damaged carriage.

”He is a genuine hero, an incredibly brave man, who regularly meets other survivors, but is private and does not want to be identified,” said North, who was in the stricken carriage.

Last month, reports released by Britain’s Home Office and a parliamentary scrutiny committee revealed intelligence agencies had missed chances to thwart the attacks by failing to follow up leads on two of the suicide bombers.

The government acknowledged a failure to anticipate that British citizens would carry out suicide attacks on their homeland.

Reid told survivors in meetings last month that Britain is currently tackling 20 major terrorist plots, North said. – Sapa-AP

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