UK spy agency at centre of verdict on London bombings

The MI5 spy agency and Britain’s emergency services were bracing for criticism last night as a judge prepared to hand down her verdict on the July 7, 2005, bombings in London.

Heather Hallett, the coroner overseeing the inquests of the 52 people killed in the atrocities, was to make a series of recommendations for preventing future deaths.

One-third of the victims remained alive for a time after the attacks and the coroner was expected to determine whether delays by the emergency services contributed to their deaths.

She also considered whether MI5 could have tracked down the bombers’ ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, before he put his plans into effect. The coroner was expected to record unlawful killing verdicts for each of the people who died in the co-ordinated bombings on London’s transport network.

Their relatives sat through five months of harrowing evidence about the planning, execution and aftermath of the suicide attacks on three Underground trains and a double-decker bus.

The bereaved families – praised by Lady Justice Hallett for their “dignity and restraint” – have waited nearly six years for answers about how their relatives died and whether their deaths could have been prevented.

They called on the coroner to use her Rule 43 powers to make 32 recommendations so lessons could be learned from the attacks. They include improvements on the way the emergency services handle major crises and tighter restrictions on the sale of hydrogen peroxide, the main ingredient of the bombs. Nine of their points relate to MI5.

The inquests involved an unprecedented public investigation into the Security Service’s activities before the attacks after it emerged that the agency possessed four separate intelligence strands that could have led to the identification of Khan.

Lady Justice Hallett was expected to take MI5 to task over its intelligence-sharing procedures and its handling of a photograph of Khan, taken after he met known terrorists in 2004, which could have led to his identification. The image was so badly photoshopped that it was not shown to a supergrass who had met the Islamic extremist.

The coroner was tipped to stop short of declaring that the atrocity could have been prevented. But she would highlight the fire and ambulance services for criticism after substantial new evidence about the response of the emergency services revealed delays in dispatching rescue crews and poor communications.

Precious seconds were lost when ambulances and fire crews were sent to the wrong location. Once they arrived at the bomb sites, they lacked vital equipment.

 

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