Milan Rai writes: Rachel
North, by the power of her
writing and her key role in organising the survivors' group
Kings Cross United, has become the best-known survivor of the
7 July attacks in London last year. This is the text of a speech
Rachel delivered at a meeting in the House of Lords, London, chaired
by Lord Rea, and called by the Campaign
Against Criminalising Communities on 12 July 2006. While there
were many important speeches that night, these powerful and moving
remarks were the highlight of the evening, in my opinion.
is a scan of Rachel's notes for her speech - there may be some
small errors. Also, Rachel adapted the text, so it was delivered
in a slightly different form on the night itself.
Thank you for asking me to speak this evening.
My name is Rachel North, and I am something
of a newcomer to this sort of gathering and these sorts of discussions.
I studied English and Theology, not politics and philosophy, and
I work in advertising not academia. I am not a journalist or an
author, but like many millions of other people all over the world,
I am a blogger, keeping an online journal, writing about my personal
life and commenting on current affairs, sharing my thoughts with
interested readers and part of a network of people doing the same
But the reason I am here tonight is that,
over 12 extraordinary months I have become something of an unwilling
figurehead connected to the London bombings - as my blog intro
puts it, 'one of the voices from the darkness of the underground
train’. This is because, a year ago, a bomb exploded in
the carriage I was travelling on, killing 26 people and wounding
340. It was this event, that caused me first to write, banging
out my story on my PC because I could not sleep, dried blood in
my ears, glass in my hair, the smell of the smoke still burning
my throat and nostrils. Through my online writing I was privileged
to find the stories of others, who read my story and got in touch.
Out of this came a motley group of survivors,
random people who simply share the same train journey. We could
be anyone, we are many different ages and background and ethnicities
and nationalities, all political, religious persuasions. Then
later in the year, as the shock faded, and the questions remained
unanswered, I became one of the many advocates of an independent
inquiry into the first suicide bombings on Western soil, that
killed 52, wounded almost 800, traumatised thousands and left
gaping grief and pain in the lives of many families and friends
of beloved ones those who simply got onto crowded public transport
one grey summer morning - and never returned.
I come here tonight as an individual. I have
only ever written and spoken as an individual, unless asked to
comment on something specifically by survivors or a group. The
Kings Cross survivor group of fellow passengers which I am proud
to be a part of is wholly non-political and exists simply so people
can meet up with the people they were trapped underground in the
dark and smoke with. We keep in touch by email and online chat
software, we go to the pub, we offer each other practical support
and assistance. We share information - for very little has been
available from officials - and most of what we have found out
about what happened to us, have been through meeting up and sharing
our stories, finding out whom we stood near on July 7th, who we
were trapped next to, and thought in many cases we would die next
to, what happened to them, and so filling in the jigsaw of the
many missing gaps of knowledge about what happened to people on
that day, month by month, with new people joining all the time.
The group of people from the Kings Cross
bombed train is now 111 strong, and so we have been able to access
a very great deal of information about what happened on 7th July
and after, simply by sharing our stories and information for a
year on our private website and by meeting up in the pub
I have lost count of how many individual
stories I have heard from July 7th, since July 7th - not only
from fellow passengers, but from rescuers, LU staff, emergency
services workers, police officers at the scene and those investigating
what has been known as Operation Theseus. More recently, the stories
of bereaved people who searched hopelessly for lost loved ones,
the stories of seriously injured people like Danny Biddle, who
left hospital only last week, having lost his legs, his eye, his
hearing in one ear and his spleen, with £118,000 compensation
and no explanation or contact from the government.
The stories, however many times I hear them,
however they are told to me and others, never fail to move me.
The questions, however many times they are asked, never lose their
power. We who were actually there have a pretty good idea of what
happened on our trains on 7th July. The question I have heard
asked over and over by survivors and bereaved families is WHY?
Why did July 7th happen? Could it have been prevented? What did
we know, what do we know today, about the radicalisation of young
men, our fellow citizens, how they became walking weapons of mass
destruction. How do we deal with the fall out, the aftermath,
how can we prevent this happening again? How can we spare suffering
and save lives? Are there practical things we could be doing such
as first aid kits on trains, communication systems that work underground?
And there are much bigger questions too.
I have been astonished by the desire to engage and understand
with the difficult questions that I have seen in many of my fellow-survivors.
Perhaps it is a way of coping. I know, for me, to have even the
faintest hope of dealing with the fact that a random stranger,
a young British man had chosen deliberately to cause such hideous
suffering and carnage feet away from me, I needed to try to understand
and ask the difficult questions about how this came to pass. Otherwise,
I would be consumed by rage, and despair, at murderousness of
strangers. And that is no way to live.
These are immensely difficult questions for
anyone to ask, and they require bravery from the questioner, and
a willingness to engage with very painful and frightening subjects.
Perhaps that is why most people do not want to ask them. Prior
to my encountering random murderous violence from a stranger,
in 2002 and again in 2005, I had no particular desire to engage
with the questions of man's inhumanity to man unless I was writing
an essay about it.
But for survivors, such questions can become
a driving need, in order to - in my case - not to forgive - but
to get past the atrocities.
Politicians, our elected representatives,
and those others responsible for the protection and defence of
the nation though, do have a need to grapple with the questions.
The big questions - not the metaphysical ones about the nature
of evil - but the ones about how much was known about the July
7th bombings, whether they could have been prevented, and what
we have learned from their painful and often chaotic aftermath.
I have met both Mr Clarke, the previous Home
Secretary, and Dr Reid, the current one - and Ms Tessa Jowell,
who is the Secretary of State with special care of the victims
of atrocities and disasters. I have asked all of them the same
question. Why has there been no public inquiry into the 7 July
In each case I have had the same answer:
it will cost too much, it will take too long, it will only tell
us what we already know. This is almost word for word what Mr
Blair said in December 2005. It has been repeated ever since by
his representatives. It is not truthful, and it is not good enough.
It seems extraordinary to me that this line
is still being peddled. Prior to the publication of the two official
reports in May - ten months since the explosions there had been
no official explanation of what had happened at all. There had
been police statements to the media, there had been journalistic
investigation there had been leaks and speculation in the media,
there had been the painful testimony of dozens of survivors, privately
shared. But no official account. It was not surprising that that
in this febrile atmosphere of suspicion, and sudden head-line-grabbing
announcements of draconian 12 Point Anti Terror legislation made
unexpectedly by the PM whilst his Home Secretary was on holiday,
of portentous soundbites along the lines of 'the rules of the
game having changed’ - speculation and confusion were rife.
It is of course impossible to expect consistency
in a rolling multi-sourced news investigation and any anomalies
have been seized upon by conspiracy theorists and spread like
wildfire all over the internet, to the consternation and frustration
of some of us who were eye witnesses.
I myself have been called a liar, a shill,
a Government disinformation agent, and even a team of M15 hackers
over the last year, by people who seem to have an emotional investment
in there being some giant cover-up or conspiracy, preferably involving
false flag operations, ( i.e. basically ‘The Government
Dunnit’) or even Mossad agents, Zionists, special forces,
stooges, patsies, drug-smuggling mules, practice exercises, bizarre
numerical or astrological similarities to 9/11, bombs under trains
and all the rest of it.
It is indicative of the lack of clear answers
that some of this nonsense comes over almost as reasonable. There
are many important questions to ask about July 7th and what was
known of the bombers before they struck. There is a big debate
to be had about liberty and security, freedom and fear, what is
being done in our name as tactics and strategies in the so called
'war on terror'.
There are big, uncomfortable questions about
our foreign and domestic policies, about whether multiculturalism
is segregationalism by another name of whether ham-fistedly highlighting
the differences between citizens to "celebrate them"
instead points them out and makes people feel outsiders in the
country they live in. These are political questions, but they
belong to all of us as stakeholders in a shared future and they
should be asked and discussed publicly. There may be some things
that may not be publicly disclosed because they impact on current
investigations, on pending trials or the defence of the realm,
but in that case they should be asked privately, by someone independent,
and empowered to ask and to keep asking without fear or favour.
There are indeed many anomalies on the two
official accounts which other speakers will I am sure develop
in more detail. Dr Reid only last night made an unexpected announcement
that the train time that the bombers took to Kings Cross was the7.25am,
not the 7.40am, and this has led to more speculation as to how
much of the Home Office's anonymous official narrative is flawed.
It is to me, and many others I have spoken
to, an insult that two slim pamphlets, each containing fewer pages
than the number of the dead - with their inconsistencies and contradictions
and downright inaccuracies - are the sum total of all that this
Government has to offer its people. To say that a public inquiry
will "only tell us what we already know" is ridiculous.
As becomes clearer and clearer every day, new information emerges
in books and in the media about what the security services knew,
what they may have hidden, what they didn't share with each other,
foreign security services, Special Branch, the police, the whole
network of whispers and intelligence and information that is shared
or not shared - and whether this system has become dangerously
politicised. After the Iraq WMD dossier, there are suspicions
that this is so, and even the ISC report stated that communication
between agencies such as the security services and police needed
to improve. Forest Gate shows we are not there yet.
As to whether the inquiry will take "too
long", well, if you wait 30 years as with the Bloody Sunday
Inquiry, yes, it probably will. But the Government has held many
inquiries since coming into power, and most of them have not taken
too long, nor cost much more than £20 million. And if terrorism
is so important that we are prepared to shred the fabric of the
constitution, to imprison without charge, to arrest peaceful protesters
and to make all citizens carry biometric ID cards, then surely
it is worth a few million to draw all the learnings from this
so-far unique atrocity - especially as we are told to expect many
more like it?
Saville Inquiry: Investigated Bloody Sunday
shootings by the Army in Londonderry in 1972. Cost: £168million.
Phillips Inquiry: Probed handling of the
BSE crisis. Cost: £26million.
Shipman Inquiry: Looked at how GP Harold
Shipman was able to murder his patients. Cost: £21 million.
Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry: Report
on how 30 heart-patient children died at the hospital. Cost:
Paddington Rail Disaster Inquiry: Set up
after deaths of 31 people in train collision in 1999. Cost:
MacPherson Inquiry: Probed police attitudes
to race following the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Mubarek Inquiry: Investigated death of
Zahid Mubarek by racist cellmate at Feltham Institution. Cost:
Diana Inquiry: Looked at claims that the
Princess was murdered. Cost: £2million.
Bichard Inquiry: Aimed to discover how
Soham killer lan Huntley became a school caretaker, despite
a history of sex offence allegations. Cost: £2million.
Investigated events leading up to the suicide of British military
scientist Dr David Kelly at the height of the row over Iraq's
WMD. Cost: £1.7million.
It is a disgrace to talk about cost, when
there is enough money to get the PM a private jet, to run John
Prescott at £2million a year and to squander billions on
ID cards, which will not stop fraud, nor identity theft, and certainly
wouldn't have stopped the July 7 bombers, whom I understand were
careful to look into CCTV cameras and to carry ID. Khan had 3
of the 4 carry his ID, so keen did he seem to be to achieve his
posthumous fame as a martyr.
And as to whether it will divert resources,
Sir lan Blair has said he will not stand in the way of an inquiry
if it happens. The US managed to hold the 9/11 commission whilst
in the midst of the war on terror and whilst fighting a war in
Give us our independent inquiry, I say. There
is so much that could be gained from it. Understanding, clarity,
answers. Debate, dialogue. actions, learnings, things that could
save lives. And I think, hope, and healing. Whilst conspiracies
flourish, they can only add to the sense of victimhood and rage.
Whilst the Government refuses to defend its foreign policy, many
will suspect that is because it fears it will be proved to be
instrumental in the radicalisation not only of Shehzad Tanweer,
who said as much in his video released on July 6, but of unknown
hundreds of thousands more would-be 'martyrs", here and abroad.
Whilst it is speculated that the police and security services
do not communicate, trust will evaporate and with it, our best
hope of intelligence and help from all the communities and people
of Britain. As we are told so many times, with ID cards, if you
have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.
Bring it on Mr Blair. Defend your legacy
from what will be said about you, that it was all about Iraq,
that Iraq was a mistake, and that you will not admit or examine
your mistakes, even if people’s limbs are torn off as they
travel to work by terrorists who cite your policy as justification
for their wicked acts. A good leader, a good manager learns from
successes and failures and is strong enough to won both. He looks
to his legacy as well as to the people in his care, and he has
courage and compassion and confidence enough to engage in dialogue
and to answer the people in the front line.
Grasp the nettle, Mr Blair, I beg you, let
the questions be asked and do not shrink from the answers. However
uncomfortable they may be, you have your job, your loved ones,
your health and future still. There are hundreds who do not. So
many questions about your policies come together in the aftermath
of the questions we still ask a year after 7th July. So let the
questions be asked, and let them be answered publicly, transparently,
independently. That might be a legacy to be proud of. And it is
no less than all of us, who take the tubes and buses, who walk
the streets of this country, who pay the taxes, who cast the votes,
need and deserve.