Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Meeting the new Home Secretary

Sky News report on the meeting

BBC report

Met the new Home Secretary for two hours last night, with about twenty other survivors and bereaved, from Edgware, Kings Cross/Russell Square and Aldgate. Most of the meeting was taken up with the matter of a public or iindependent inquiry. The evening meeting got off to a scary start with an alarm going off and a recorded voice saying '' An incident has been reported and is being investigated. Please remain in your seats.'' Cue much barely suppressed anxiety: most of us are not great with alarms going off. ( 'Though you can bet the the Home Office is bomb-proof' another survivor whispered to me.)

Finally it stopped, and we all introduced ourselves. As well as Dr. Reid there was a representative of the Counter Terrorism directive there, the Chief Executive of the Criminal Injuries Association, and the Head of the Victims Unit. Dr Reid started by taking us through the ISC report and the home Office narrative and stressing that there had been learnings, with hindsight. More resources in Pakistan, more resources here. There had been, and may be, further enquiries; the Home Office Committee reports findings had been completed ( I haven't seen them - has anyone else?) and steps had been taken to improve response - for example the simplifying of the terror alert level.

This is from my notes and I don't have shorthand. Apologies for posting late, and badly, it has been frenetic, to say the least, and I am behind with work, emails, everything. This is a stream of consciousness, and I will write more, properly when I have time. It's past midnight, I seem to have no time to write anymore.

Dr. Reid stressed that the Intelligence and Security Committee's findings had been largely that no-one was 'culpable' and the Security service's judgements 'understandable', and said that ' it was not a cover up. I'd not be part of a cover-up.' He talked of his belief that huge resources would be diverted and kept mentioning the hugely lengthy, expensive Bloody Sunday Inquiry. He stressed his dedication to trying to make sure that this did not happen again, and the '100% effort' going into this, but that nobody could be sure that it wouldn't. That there were pieces of information that he just couldn't share, matters that were sub-judice, and he would try and answer more questions honestly when those investigations and matters were concluded, as information became more freely available.

He then talked about compensation, and the extra £2.5 million ex gratia awards which would effectively double most claimants' awards according to the existing tarriffs. He talked of how the CICA scheme was being reviewed but ''as 7/7 was a one-off event'' he hoped that this special award could be paid over quickly. (But what about the victims of other terror attacks? Or other, less well-known criminals? Is this fair? Are we being placated here? Am I being too cynical? I don't want to be. People need money though, £200,00 or less is not much if you cannot work, have to move house, will need life-long care.)

Over to the questions. The first question was from a man who lost his boyfriend at Russell Square who wanted to know if there were CCTV images of the bombers on the trains, and whether he could see the last minutes of his loved one. The Counter Terrorism representative said that there were, but they had not been released, as the post-bomb CCTV images 'were disturbing'. Dr. Reid promised to investigate whether images of the train before the bomb could be shown privately to the bereaved man. It sounded like the CCTV images were not of good quality. A survivor with an IT background asked about face-recognition software, and data-sharing between police, and security services - was it adequate? The Home Secretary came out strongly for ID cards, though there were strong murmurs of dissent from round the table - after all; the bombers had carried ID and had wanted, it seems, to be identified as 'martyrs'.

It became difficult to get a word in edgways at times. A survivor pointed out that we had been told that the police were able to dicover Khan's credit cards at three of the scenes and run his name through the police database and immediately find Khan listed as an international terrorism suspect. How had this been missed? Dr Reid stressed the importance of bombers having identifiable ID and not 'faked identities', that another investigation concerning a UK threat had been going on and Khan had been only 'peripheral' to it, that resources had been concentrated on that, on men planning to bomb UK soil. ( Was Khan not planning to bomb UK soil?..) At which point, a survivor said, if security services had been so stretched, why had the police or Special Branch not been asked to keep him under surveillance? Were the security services and police not talking to each other? I said, was it because there had been a reluctance on the part of the Security services to accept suicide bombings on British soil by British men? Yet the police had had a shoot-to-kill suicide bomber policy in place for some years - so they had clearly accepted the possibility. Was this a failure of imagination from a department more used to Irish terrorism and the Cold War? asked someone else. It wasn't about culpability, or cover-ups, or resources or blame, said another survivor, and we all agreed. It was about preventing terror by understanding why it happened. Could we not learn from what happened in the U.S after 9/11? They had managed an enquiry after all.

And so it went on. Twenty major conspiracies were known about, said Dr. Reid, how can I divert resources from dealing with the threat reports that daily cross my desk? How will the next set of families feel when they sit here and I tell them I diverted resources away from fighting terror into a public inquiry? Nobody blinked. He tried again: post 9/11 there had been a three-fold increase in resources, and funding from £900 million to £200,000 million. But it took time to train and recruit staff.

It's a weak argument, said a survivor. You should find the resources. It's people, it's time, not money, said the Home Secretary. Is it not that M15 and M16 are their own fiefdoms? asked a survivor - they wouldn't work closely enough with Special branch? Is this not the failure at the heart of this? I asked. No, said the Home Secretary, this is all with hindsight. Yes, the report said there should be better co-ordination between the security services and the police, that was 'a case proved'. Fine, so if you have admitted that, Home Secretary, are we to be satisfied? A group of people, appointed by the PM, take evidence from people who stand to lose their jobs if they have been doing their jobs properly. Unsurprisingly, they find from the evidence that nobody is to blame and the bombings could not be helped.

What 'collateral damage', what blood price is acceptable, then? Why has nobody mentioned, will not even admit the part that foreign policy has clearly had in recruiting terror to our streets? That what is done abroad has an impact at home? An impact that cost lives and limbs and left such a legacy of sadness and suffering? Why are ID cards the answer, but Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine must not be the question? Why can what was done by members of the public to the public not be discussed in front of the public?

Perhaps we should call it a Voters' Inquiry, not a public inquiry. Maybe then we'd make the point, get through, be heard more clearly.

I am not satisfied. I am very grateful for the Home Secretary's time, for his staff's time, for the chance we had to speak out, but I am not satisfied. In the first week of June the GLA London Assembly report will come out. It is expected to be critical of the response to July 7th , though nobody doubts the valiance of the emergency services and LU staff. It will tell the story of the impact on ordinary Londoners, and the communication on the day and after. It is not a substitute for a Public Inquiry, but it will, we were promised, challenge the Government without fear or favour.

Somebody needs to.

This is not going away, terrorism is not going away. And nor are the voices of those who are left behind in its wake. Dr. Reid has promised to continue the dialogue, to look at our suggestions for something that is not a whitewash and not a Bloody Sunday lawyer's bunfest. That is something, at least. I will not give up heart. He wants to engage, that is good. He listened, mostly.

This July 7th, we will mark the first suicide bombing on the soil of Western Europe with silence. And silence, still, is all we have. Dialogue, question, answers would be better, if we are to not to stand in silence again and again and again, in the days and years to come, whilst innocent blood continues to be shed, here, and everywhere where bombs are detonated in anger.

I am very tired, and this is not a well-written post; I will write more, better, soon, when I can. I, and others, will keep on asking questions. When the trials are over, when there is a new Prime Minister, maybe then we will have some answers. I hope so. I always hope.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting that. I am vaguely astonished that this is the first comment. Given the media swarm, etc.

I have no agenda here, but I do think, (I think :; ), that our new Home Secretary is being disingenuous. He tut tut's at costs, yet they are as nothing when compared to his governments Iraq adventure. The price of reason seems to be too high to pay, yet the government will pay any cost whatsoever, in lives and cash without properly discussing it with us first?

May 25, 2006 9:00 pm  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

Sounds like it was another 'good start'...but, again, nothing new. I am waiting to see if this good start develops into a better dialogue. The silence, so far, from Tessa Jowell is not boding well in my cynical mind

May 26, 2006 12:31 pm  
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June 16, 2006 5:58 pm  

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