MI5 officers to give evidence to 7/7 inquiry
MI5 officers could be called to answer questions in public as part of the inquests into the deaths of 52 people in the terrorist bomb attacks on July 7 2005 which finally gets under way today.
More than five years after the attacks, bereaved families will have the chance to ask questions from the police and emergency services about whether their loved ones could have been saved.
Lady Justice Hallett has ruled that the scope of the inquests should also include the sensitive issue of whether the attacks could have been prevented, which could involve calling officers from MI5 to explain their decisions.
However, lawyers for the Security Service have argued that any public cross-examination of officers would risk the disclosure of sensitive information and the issue remains unresolved as the five-month inquest begins.
Some victims’ families say that MI5 should have prioritised an investigation into ring-leaders Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer after they appeared in a surveillance operation as part of another investigation 17 months earlier.
Graham Foulkes, whose 22-year-old son David was killed in the Edgware Road bombing, said MI5's attempts to keep details of its investigations secret were "really distressing" to the families.
Mr Foulkes said: "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.”
Lady Hallett, an appeal court judge who has been appointed assistant deputy coroner for the purposes of the inquest, has decided to sit without a jury in order to give her the scope to consider sensitive intelligence material in private.
She told a preliminary hearing it was “important to bear very much in mind fairness to the MI5 and police officers involved” and warned: “I should emphasise that I will not allow assertions of gross negligence, dishonesty or malpractice to be put to any individual, unless there is some basis for making them.”
For other bereaved families the response of the emergency services will be a key part of the hearing, after recently discovering that some victims survived for up to 40 minutes before help arrived.
The inquests will also be important for more than 700 people injured in the blasts, although the coroner has ruled that they cannot be legally represented or ask witnesses questions.
The hearing will re-open with two days of opening statements, followed by evidence on the bombers’ journeys to London.
The inquest will then take evidence on each of the bomb sites at Aldgate, Edgware Road, King’s Cross and Tavistock Square.
The emergency response will also be examined and the subject of preventability will be the last issue before the inquest is expected to conclude in March next year.
The hearings were delayed by the trials of three men accused of conducting a reconnaissance mission for the bombers which ended in their acquittal in April last year.
Successive British Home Secretaries have turned down calls for a public inquiry into the bombings but there has been an inquiry by the London Assembly into the emergency response and two inquiries by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee held in private into whether the attacks could have been prevented.