Inquest 101: MI5 Seeking to Sanitise the 7/7 Inquiry

October 12, 2010

I’m no expert on inquests, but the one currently unfolding into the 7/7 attacks on the London transport system strikes me as odd.

Wikipedia defines an “inquest” as: “a judicial investigation in common law jurisdictions, conducted by a judge, jury, or government official.”

In the case of the 7/7 attacks, the investigation is into the roots of the attacks – what caused them, whether they could have been prevented, and how to do so in the future. But in the opening days of the inquest, the jury has been bombarded with information which has scant relevance to such a task.

  • The BBC reports today that “The inquests into the 7 July suicide bombings in London have been shown graphic footage of the aftermath of the four explosions.” With relatives of the victims present, the inquest saw “Police video filmed later that evening showed the driver’s cab window was shattered, while bags were left scattered and abandoned.”
  • The Guardian headlines with “7/7 inquest hears tales of heroism after bombs struck London” – recounting some admirable tales of “fortitude” amidst “horror.”
  • Yesterday, the court was told (as if they didn’t know) that the attacks “were acts of merciless savagery which could only outline the sheer inhumanity of the perpetrators.”
  • Other reports have stressed the “chaos” which followed the attacks, with stills from the police footage and audio recordings of the emergency services available on the websites of the tabloid newspapers.

This barrage of footage and sound can only have the effect of priming the court and public so as to deflect attention from calls to investigate the state.

For relatives of the victims, it is all a sideshow. What they want to know is how the attackers were allowed the opportunity to detonate their bombs, given what we now know about how much the security services knew of them long before they boarded the tube on 7 July.

For Graham Foulkes, father of David who died on that day, “The key thing is that the inquest carries out an investigation into the involvement of MI5 and MI6 and anti-terrorism authorities leading up to the attack.”

As he said in April, “It is our firm belief that there was an overwhelming volume of information in the hands of the intelligence community, which, had they acted appropriately and properly, would have prevented the attacks.”

The inquest is not a chance to remind ourselves of the savagery inflicted on 7 July, but a chance to right the wrongs perpetrated by the state in denying a full investigation since. As he continued, “Since 2005 requests for information had been refused and met with legal jargon. But if the coroner says that the inquest must include what they knew, then they will have to give evidence under oath and we can establish the facts.”

For Julie Nicholson, whose daughter Jenny died, “The inquest represents a juncture at which a very well-respected judge can ask those questions so that every aspect of the events can be scrutinised and analysed…So you go from having all these jigsaw pieces in a bag, shaken up, to having a clearer picture, a story.”

But even after five official reports into 7/7 and five years of effort by victims, relatives and lawyers, the judge presiding over the inquest, Lady Justice Hallett, told the court that “as much information as possible would be released to the hearings” but that “I will balance carefully the needs of national security with relevance and fairness.”

As Foulkes put it, “By every kind of moral standard that you’re brought up with, that’s wrong. You’re told, if you make a mistake, you hold up your hands. My view is that their incompetence allowed Mohammad Sidique Khan to get through.”

He clearly fears a whitewash. And he’s right to. As the BBC reported in May, lawyers with MI5 had begun to lean upon the inquiry, arguing that evidence of the 7/7 plotters having known links to terrorists (some of whom may have been informants0) “would give al-Qaeda an “invaluable weapon” and should not be disclosed.”

And last week, it was the intelligence services which lent upon Lady Hallett to hear sensitive evidence in closed sessions. Their contempt for democracy is revolting. As Foulkes adds, “Here they are, drawing a salary to do a job which they clearly have not done. And they’re employing every legal twist they possibly can not to be accountable…It’s very clear that they just waved two fingers at the coroner. They’re deliberately frustrating the process.”

We shall see whether their wrecking tactics can last.

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