Report on London Bombings Blames Flawed Planning

Flawed emergency planning and communications breakdowns, including jammed cell phone networks and radio failures, hampered rescuers' response to London's deadly transit bombings last year, an inquiry said Monday.

The official report highlighted confusion in response to the July 7 bombings after cellular networks became overloaded and radio communications from street level to rescue workers in the subway failed. The attacks killed 52 commuters and four bombers, and injured about 700 people.

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Some hospitals had to rely on staff running to and from bomb sites to gather information, according to the 700-page report, published by the London Assembly's July 7 review committee, one of several inquiries into the attacks.

The report did not say, however, that anyone died as a result of any of the failings outlined by the committee.

London's emergency services said they have dealt with some problems and are working to make other changes, but it was not clear how soon they would be completed.

Some of the problems of dealing with subway disasters had been identified following a fire at King's Cross station nearly 20 years ago, but those still had not been solved, the London Assembly's report noted.

Among the lessons is the idea that people — rather than procedures — should take priority, said Richard Barnes, chairman of the panel that led the inquiry. He said it was unacceptable that hundreds of people were left to "wander away from the scenes with little or no effort to collect their details."

"London's emergency plans have been tested, practiced and refined, but on 7 July it was clear that they ignored the needs of many individuals caught up in attacks," he said at City Hall. "They focused on incidents but not individuals, and processes rather than people."

The report made 54 recommendations, and Barnes said the committee would seek progress reports in November from the relevant authorities.

One area of focus likely will be the progress made in providing communications for emergency workers underground. Improvements in that area were first called for after 1987 fire at King's Cross killed 31 people.

Phil Woolas of the London Resilience Partnership, a representative body for London's key emergency services set up after the Sept. 11 attacks, said lessons would be learned.

"Some issues have already been recognized and acted upon, such as communications systems and problems with radios underground," Woolas said.

He said the fire department has secured funding for extra rescue vehicles.

"We shall study the report's recommendations closely and take on board any additional lessons, whilst never forgetting the professionalism and individual acts of heroism that characterized London's response to the bombings," Woolas said.

London's Ambulance Service was particularly hamstrung by the failure of the capital's mobile network, the inquiry noted. Barnes said because ambulances were wholly reliant on cell phones, about 60 vehicles were effectively isolated in their efforts to rescue survivors.

The ambulance service's chief executive, Peter Bradley, said ambulances nonetheless treated and transported more than 400 patients to hospitals within three hours.

Since November, the five-member London Assembly committee has heard evidence from hospital staff, emergency and transport officials, and survivors of the bombings, which targeted three subway trains and a double-decker bus.

Barnes said that despite criticisms, progress has been made and London is safer today.

Survivors have pressed for a full public inquiry into the bombings, saying evidence released in two British government reports falls short of the standard set by the U.S. commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.

"This is the only public interrogation so far of any of the evidence, and it has turned up a huge number of problems with planning and resources," said Rachel North, 35, who survived the subway bombing near Russell Square station that killed 26 people.

Reports released last month by Britain's Home Office and a parliamentary committee said intelligence agencies had missed chances to thwart the attacks by failing to follow up leads on two of the suicide bombers.