Sunday, December 18, 2005

That 7/7 Enquiry

Following on from this, mildly contentious, post, Rachel From North London has sent me a couple of links. Firstly, she has got a wee article in the Times, outlining why she thinks that an enquiry is necessary.
Many of the people I have spoken to are full of practical suggestions to improve the response to the aftermath of a disaster, stressing to me that their desire for a public inquiry is out of a desire to get something positive from the experience.

We’ve talked about the communication between carriages, or lack of it, whether each carriage, or the train driver, should carry first aid kits, torches and hammers to smash windows, whether breathing apparatus should be kept in stations for rescue workers and whether there should be guards on trains.

What could be done to improve lines of communication between London Underground’s network control centre and front-line staff? Half an hour after the Tube bombs exploded, a Tube worker described how his boss was still telling him that it was a power surge, while at the same time Sky News was interviewing witnesses describing the carnage. He also asks, “Did tunnel dust, which has been allowed to build up over several years, contribute significantly to the choking difficulties experienced by the survivors?”

One would hope that the PPP collective that "runs" the London Underground these days might listen to Rachel's suggestions; that might well be a good idea. My view is still that any enquiry under this government will be a whitewash, even in response to such practical suggestions as Rachel makes. There are several reasons for this, but one for avoiding the acknowledgement of the practical ideas is that any admission that there were inadequate provisions made by the Tube authorities might open up a raft of lawsuits. (Also, it's been a long time since I was on the Tube, but I thought that the carriages did have hammers for smashing windows? Is that no longer the case (or am I remembering wrongly)?)

Rachel also point me to an article claiming that Blair was warned.
SPYMASTERS warned Tony Blair before the July 7 suicide bombings that Al-Qaeda was planning a “high priority” attack specifically aimed at the London Tube.

A leaked four-page report by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which oversees all spying, is the first definitive evidence that the intelligence services expected terrorists to strike at the Underground.

This is not exactly a massive leap of the imagination, to be honest. Since Al-Qaeda struck at the Parisian Metro (early 90s?), they have past form. Plus, think about it: if you wish to kill as many people as possible with a relatively small device, the Underground is perfect. The blast will be directed back inwards by the tunnel walls and the confines of the coaches would keep shrapnel whizzing around nicely. Add to this the huge volume of people on the system at the time, the concealment afforded by the low levels of lighting and the inevitable confusion caused by the fact that, much of the time, mobiles and radios will not work in the deepest lines, and you have a perfect target. Factor in the economic damage caused by the inability of people to get to work that day and you have a very good result.

(Of course, the real risk would be if you could get even a small nuke down there. If you could collapse the tunnels themselves, then you could cause severe damage and casualties to the London surface too.)

It is not enough for the intelligence services to say that they warned of a strike at the Tube at some date or time unspecified: as I have illustrated, it was always going to be a prime target. People need to know when and where, and that is almost impossible to predict. The question is how to stop it happening again. The answer is that, practically, you can't.

Which is where Rachel's ideas on disaster management come in.

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