I don’t know if you remember where you were on the morning of the 7th July 2005 when you heard the news of the terrorist bombings in London. It seems a lot longer ago than ten years to be honest. And yet it also seems closer. I remember virtually everything about that day.
I was sitting at my desk in the House of Commons (for the uninitiated, I was working for David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary and Tory leadership candidate as his chief of staff) and a colleague popped his head round the door to say there was something on the radio about a big bang in a tube station. Shortly afterwards Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson from the Daily Telegraph arrived to do a feature interview with David. Gradually news started coming in that there were several incidents. I kept interrupting his interview with news. Once we worked out it was a terror attack, I rang home and rang my parents to reassure them I was OK. I began to get calls from friends.
My work colleague began to get hysterical about her son, who she feared might have been on one of the trains. She rang his school and he had not arrived. As the morning wore on, and she couldn’t make contact with him, even I began to fear the worst. But I had to make a decision. I was trying to coordinate our response and ensure the office ran smoothly, yet my colleague (and very good friend) was becoming hysterical. Did I try to soothe her or did I do my job? I’m slightly ashamed to say I chose the latter and ‘delegated’ the former. Hard bastard, I thought to myself. Her son rang to say he was OK shortly afterwards.
None of us knew what it all meant. The thought ran through my mind that if this was a repeat of 9-11, our office wasn’t exactly the best place to be. It was located almost directly under Big Ben. But you just get on with your job. David Davis was the coolest man in London. If ever I doubted his leadership qualities, they were on full display that day. Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester would confirm that. I think they were rather impressed at the way he swung into action. We convened a Shadow Cobra meeting with Michael Howard and other members of the Shadow Home Affairs team. Several calls came in from the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, who was keen to brief David on Privy Council terms about what was going on. He told David he would be making a statement to the Commons, so we all swung into action to prepare David’s response. I seem to remember that Nick Herbert and Paul Goodman were heavily involved, but in the end most of the words were David’s own. They had to be.
David then went down to the chamber to respond to Charles Clarke’s statement in the House of Commons. We were glued to the TV. He caught the mood of the House and gave a speech which even his enemies had to admit was striking.
The next day, I was walking along the Embankment to work with the sound of helicopters and Police sirens ringing through the air. I remember thinking to myself: “This is not the London I love.” I felt as if I was walking along a street in an alien city. I admit that a tear rolled down my face. Would life ever be the same?
Well, life did return to normal for most of us. But for the families of the people who died that day, normal would never exist again.
I got to know one of the victims who survived quite well. I won’t name her here as I know she has moved on in her life. But she spent several years trying to come to terms with what had happened and campaigned for justice for the families of those who died and for the people who were so badly injured. She insisted the 7/7 inquiry was conducted properly and that the correct lessons were learned.
Well have those lessons been learned? There will be a lot of introspection today, not least throughout the day on LBC. The fact is that since July 2005 we haven’t had a major terror attack in London. Perhaps the security services learned some valuable lessons we will never know the details of. Certainly London Underground and the Metropolitan Police will have learned lessons too. Hopefully the right ones.
This time last year some vile idiots defaced the 7/7 Memorial. It showed us once again what evil people there are in our midst. We know that one day there will be another terrorist outrage in our capital city. But the terrorists can never win if we defy them. And defy them we must.
On LBC Drive this afternoon we will have interviews with Tony Blair, Charles Clarke, David Davis, Commander Mark Rowley and a half hour documentary by Tessa Jowell, who played a leading role in the aftermath of 7/7 looking after the interests of victims’ families. Do tune in.