Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Meeting the ISC

See Mirror today
and today's Evening Standard

Back in October last year, the '7/7 Inquiry Group' - a group of survivors and families campaigning for an independent inquiry into the London Bombings of July 7th 2005, helped pro-bono by Oury Clark Solicitors - had a breakthrough in terms of the process of trying to get more answers to the many questions which still remain about the 7th July bombings.

Following a meeting with Jacqui Smith last autumn, we made contact with the Intelligence and Security Committee (the security services 'watchdog') and attended one of their meetings. The ISC have been sitting every month since May 2007 to re-examine the 7th July events - in particular, what was known about the bombers and whether they could have been stopped from unleashing their deadly attacks which killed 52 innocent passengers and injured nearly 800 more.

Tony Blair asked the ISC - a cross-party committee of Parliamentarians appointed by the PM - to re-investigate following a huge outcry and masses of media coverage in the wake of the 'Crevice' fertiliser-bombers trial - after it came out in court that two of the 7/7 bombers had been associating with the group of 'fertiliser bomb' terrorists when under surveillance by M15. The would-be fertiliser-bombers were thankfully prevented from carrying out their attacks after an enormous police and security services operation. The 7/7 bombers, tragically, succeeded.

Some background might be helpful. The initial ISC report published by the ISC back in May 2006 completely exonerated the security services of any blame in failing to stop the bombers, even though it later found out that two of the bombers had been bugged and photographed and followed by the security services - and so were definitely known, named and on the radar - rather than being 'clean skins', who attacked 'out of the blue,' as initially claimed by the then-Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

It was in 2005 that I first found out that this 'clean skins' business was nonsense: at a survivor meeting I attended in the Home Office, a senior police officer was asked how they managed to identify the bombers so quickly. He blurted out that credit cards and other ID in the name of Mohammed Siddique Khan had been found at three of the crime scenes 'and when we ran the name through the police computer it came up that he had links to international terrorism'.

Hardly a 'clean skin' then.

So that was when we started getting annoyed and wanting more truthful answers - back in 2005.

In May 2006, two reports were published- the original ISC report about the security services and 7/7, and a Home Office Narrative, written by an anonymous civil servant. The narrative appears to contain worrying inaccuracies, including placing the bombers on a *train into London that never ran. The lack of clarity soon led to various conspiracy theories being bandied about, (*John Reid later corrected the train time in Parliament.) The conspiracy theories include unhelpful and inaccurate speculation that the bombers were never in London, or were part of a 'fake terror exercise' and frequently assert that the bombers were innocent of murdering 52 people.

Our conspiracy-theory-free campaign for an independent inquiry into 7/7 carried on, supported by the media, notably the Mirror, and by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, and by the Greater London Assembly, who had held their own inquiry into communication failures and the city of London's resilience to the attack.

Numerous meetings occurred with the John Reid, Home Office, Tessa Jowell and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (which is responsible for victims of disasters), but still no inquiry.

In November 2006 we were we grateful to be offered pro-bono representation by Oury Clark Solicitors, a firm with a strong human rights reputation, and in May 2007, we went to the Home Office the day after the news had broken of the fertiliser's plotters' guilty convictions - and their association with the 7/7 bombers.

See this BBC news video report

John Reid, the Home Secretary of the moment said no to our request, reiterating Blair's old argument that the inquiry would be a' diversion of resources' .

We went back with a legal argument via Oury Clark, saying that the government had a duty to protect life and an inquiry was a necessary part of that. The Treasury solicitors responded with further legal arguments rejecting our case. So we were put into a litigation corner, and we had to issue proceedings for a judicial review, within the three month window that we had to respond. Meanwhile, Tony Blair asked the ISC to re-start their investigations.

John Reid left the Home Office later that summer. Tony Blair resigned as PM, and off we went to meet the new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in October 2007. We stressed yet again that we didn't want to engage in litigation and were not seeking to blame people, but were just keen to get proper answers about what had happened - especially about what was known about the bombers and whether they could have been stopped.

We also said that the families were still waiting for inquests, and asked why there was such a delay. It was suggested that we asked the Director of Public Prosecutions about the delay, so we did, and he came back and said the inquests were on hold because of the forthcoming criminal trial of men alleged to have helped the bombers plan the attacks ( starting April 2008). It was also suggested that we met the ISC.

The ISC were very nice to us and invited us to attend a meeting with them, stressing that they intended to 'leave no stone unturned 'in their investigation We said we still had many questions, and we asked if we could put them to the committee in writing after the meeting. I think they thought we'd have six or seven key questions, and that they themselves would already have asked them. But we came back with 67 very detailed questions.

We still don't know when the ISC will come back with their report. Nor do we have a date for the inquests yet, though details of how loved ones died were sent in the post before Christmas last year to the families. The 7/7 alleged conspirators trial starts at the beginning of April; this is also when the government will debate and vote on the new terrorism laws, which includes a proposal that inquests in the cases of 'matters of national security' can run without a Coroner, instead having a Judge or person appointed by the Government, and without juries, and where deemed necessary, hear the facts and the evidence in secret.

(See tonight's BBC 6pm news for more on our fears about the proposed inquest legislation.)

But at least, and at last, we have finally managed to put our questions to the security services through the medium of the ISC, who we hope will ask them on our behalf, and then report back with the answers as soon as possible. Probably after the 7/7 alleged conspirators trial, although we still do not have a date for the ISC report.

It's the first time that anything like this has happened with the ISC meeting victims of a terrorism attack - it's unprecedented - and we are very grateful to them for allowing us access and to ask questions. We hope that we will hear back from them soon and that we will be a little closer to knowing more of the truth.

The Judicial Review proceedings are stayed - it hasn't gone away - but in the light of the argument that running an independent inquiry in tandem with ISC inquiry would be a problem, we and the government have agreed to hang fire from going to court whilst the ISC continue their investigations.

One of the best ways to look at the failures of the past is to look at what has changed since. New regional M15 offices, including one in West Yorkshire, the roll out of S019 and new plans for greater communication between the police and security services have all been planned or implemented since 7/7. Which tells you a quite a lot.

But it doesn't tell you the whole story, a story which we would like to be investigated publicly, independently and thoroughly by someone independent of government and the security services who can compel witnesses and review evidence.

Des Thomas, a former police officer has explained that it is possible to hold this sort of inquiry quite easily without diverting resources. When the trial of the alleged 7/7 conspirators begins next month, more information will come out. There has been a constant drip, drip of new information coming out for the last few years and it is largely because of ongoing media interest and legal processes that we have found out what we know so far.

I can't understand why anyone would think this is a good strategy - it means the story just runs and runs and that people just get more and more frustrated and think that the government/police/security services has something to hide, which is hardly helpful or productive. It allows idiotic conspiracy theories to take root, which in turn impacts on levels of public trust, which makes it harder to gather intelligence - our best weapon against extremism and terrorism. And it adds to the distress of people directly affected who understandably want closure.

Well, we shall see where we get. The campaigning continues.

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Blogger septicisle. said...

I hate to say it Rachel, but I wouldn't get your hopes up with the ISC. They've previously released a momentous whitewash on rendition, where they didn't even bother to question the security services further than their denials that they couldn't have possibly known what the Americans were doing, and their last annual report was censored up to the nines. The only way the truth will ever even begin to be reached is with an independent inquiry, something all sides are determined to resist.

March 20, 2008 12:53 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Still , it's a start. It's unprecedented access to the people who ask M15 questions, asking detailed questions on our behalf

We'll see...

March 20, 2008 6:12 pm  

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