June 5, 2006

London bomb probe reveals communication breakdown

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Emergency crews attending last July's
London bombings, the first suicide attacks in Western Europe,
were let down by poor communications which caused delays
treating survivors, an inquiry concluded on Monday.

Four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters and injured some
700 in attacks on three trains and a bus in the capital during
morning rush hour. British police fear further attacks by
Islamist militants, possibly again targeting public transport.

A London Assembly report said some rescuers had radios
which did not work on the underground rail network and others'
mobile phones failed. Ambulances were consequently delayed or
sent to the wrong place, basic medical supplies ran short and
there were problems in getting some of the injured to hospital.

"At the beginning, I am convinced that they just did not
appreciate the magnitude of what had happened," said Richard
Barnes, chairman of the report committee.

It took 40 minutes, for example, for the first ambulance to
arrive at the scene of a blast in an underground train tunnel
between King's Cross and Russell Square stations, 20 minutes
after police reported at least 200 casualties.

At 9:40 a.m., police called on ambulance controllers to
"send every unit that you've got." By 10:13 a.m., there was
still only one ambulance to deal with 100 seriously wounded
people in the tunnel and up to 50 walking wounded.

The report urged an overhaul of emergency communications
and said the systems were unchanged since last July.

"We would be in exactly the same position later today or
tomorrow as on July 7," Barnes told reporters.


Only a quarter of the 4,000 thought to have been directly
caught up in the blasts gave their details to police. There
should have been a reception point where they could gather, the
report said.

The report praised staff from one hospital for setting up a
field hospital at a tube station, even though they had not been
formally alerted or asked to help.

Survivors' accounts of the explosions were published in the
report, many for the first time.

A passenger named only as John, who was on a train attacked
at Edgware Road, described a "massive bang" and an orange
fireball which shot glass splinters through the air.

"Horrific loud cries and screams filled the air," he said.
"I could not breathe, my lungs were burning."

Gary, a passenger on a bus bombed at Tavistock Square, said
he jumped from the top of the double-deck bus.

"My clothes were hanging off me where they had all
shredded," he said. "It blew the top of my shoe off -- a
heavy-stitched leather shoe."

(Additional reporting by Nathalie Malamatinas)