Carole Allsop remembers July 2005
London in July is temperamental – grey, dry, wet, bright – but the trees are lush with summer leaves. Each year July removes the seal on stores of memories – the month of what became known as the 7-7 bombings. In 2005 bloody horror shattered the morning of 7th July. Suicide bombs set off by four young men blew apart three underground trains and a bus cutting short the lives of fifty two people, and mutilating the bodies of over seven hundred more. The streets rang with the din of sirens, and the city was thrown into turmoil.
In the aftermath, Londoners forced to continue their daily travels to work on the tube and bus watched each other nervously, looking out for bulky rucksacks and unattended bags. There were bomb scares, hoaxes and evacuated stations. On 21st July, the fear was ratcheted up. After failing in their attempts to set off more bombs in three stations and a bus, four bombers got away. A police investigation was launched to find them. A gym membership card amateurishly left in one of the bags that contained an unexploded bomb led the police to a block of flats in South London’s Tulse Hill.
Jean Charles de Menezes did not know he shared his block of flats in Tulse Hill with terrorist suspects under police surveillance. On the morning of 22nd July, Jean-Charles. an electrician from Brazil, was called to fix a broken fire alarm in Kilburn, North London. As he left the building, the officer on watch mistook him for one of the suspects, and Jean Charles was tailed on his bus to Brixton station. Finding it closed, he made a call on his phone. In the frenzied atmosphere that pervaded, absurdly this seemed confirmation to those monitoring him of his intentions to blow up a train. He was followed on by bus to Stockwell Station. He picked up a free newspaper and used his oyster card to pass through the ticket barrier, walked down the escalator, then ran across the platform to the waiting train and sat down. A police officer had followed him and sat opposite. Other officers had been called. Three specialist firearms officers pulled up outside the station and charged down the escalator with one blind intention – to stop a catastrophe. The other policeman shouted to them ‘He’s here’. Jean Charles stood up. The men rushed at him, dragged him off the train, and fired eleven bullets into his body, seven into his head. The hollow-point bullets made him unrecognisable afterwards.
A wall outside Stockwell Station pays tribute to the innocence of Jean-Charles on that desperate tragic day, a victim of 7-7 killed not by terrorists, but police officers whose own courage is rarely mentioned. The bungling of their colleagues led these three men to race down into the tube station under the misapprehension that a terrorist carrying a suicide bomb had boarded a train. Their intention was to avert tragedy, they risked being blown to bits themselves, but in a few terrifying seconds another innocent young man’s life was brutally ended.