The Wednesday had been a brilliant day in London. News had come through that London had been nominated as the venue for the 2012 Olympics and there was jubilation on the streets. As I left work that evening, I watched, with thousands of others on the streets, the Red Arrows fly over as the capital city erupted with scenes of jubilation. It was the happiest day of the summer and London was buzzing with excitement.
Twenty four hours later, on Thursday, 52 innocent people were dead and 700 were injured after four suicide bombers had detonated their explosives – three on the underground railway and one on a bus. London that day was in chaos: a million miles for the joys of the previous day.
I interviewed Ian Johnson, Chief Constable of British Transport Police, who told me:
"The first call came into our control room from the station supervisor at Aldgate. He reported a loud bang and that he was evacuating the station as a result."
"Many other calls followed from various sources, giving sometimes conflicting information. That is one of the problems of multi-sited incidents, indeed of all major incidents," Johnson told me.
The Casualty Bureau received many more phone calls in the first 24 hours than in any previous emergency. At its peak, it was receiving 43,000 calls an hour and – at one point – they recorded 7,823 people missing.
Underground Chaos and Carnage
Meanwhile, the decision was taken to put London’s entire underground railway system on Code Amber – the complete evacuation of the whole network, a task which is infinitely more complex in peak time, when thousands were panicking and we were expecting more bombs to go off.
Tim O’Toole, the underground managing director told me: "I was in my office. I had just returned from the daily conference when I received a text message reporting loss of power to the network. I marched off immediately to the Network Control Centre."
The first call came in at 0850 and, following reports of multiple power failures and 'bangs' Code Amber was called at 0915.
"Station staff and local management plunged unhesitatingly into tunnels to deal with incredibly difficult situations. They went onto trains where people had sustained the most horrific injuries."
In a tribute to the remarkable job his staff did on that day, it was reported that, within the hour, more than 200,000 were evacuated without a single injury, confining the damage to the three sites where the bombs had gone off.
Prime Minister Tony Blair had been chairing the G8 summit meeting at Gleneagles in Scotland and had just finished his breakfast meeting with George W. Bush when the news came through. He flew straight back to chair a COBRA meeting with senior ministers, plus the intelligence and emergency services. He then went to the command center at Scotland Yard.
Blair’s spokesman told me: "The Prime Minister believes that what the terrorists want is to stop normal life and, therefore, what we should try to do it carry on with normal life as much as possible."
In the following days, as the bodies were removed from the trains and the bus, the injured were cared for in one of the biggest operations since the war. London’s underground network was largely re-started the following day, apart from those areas where the bombs had gone off.
I remember an eerie silence on the trains in the days that followed. Londoners were in shock and you could see everyone eyeing everyone else up suspiciously. Gradually over the following weeks, London got back to normal and relaxed. There was a sense of obstinacy and of survival, reminiscent of the days of the wartime blitz.
In the inquiry that followed, valuable lessons were learned: too much reliance on an overloaded mobile phone system, the need for better emergency services radio systems, better communications, more surveillance cameras and the need to treat the dead with dignity and respect.
However, in spite of all the surveillance and extra vigilance and security introduced in the last ten years, I will never forget the words of a senior security official who reminded me, chillingly, of the old maxim: the bomber will always get through.
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