London bombings report criticises emergency planning

LONDON - 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 has concluded.

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.

Help for survivors

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."

- REUTERS

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