Thursday, July 27, 2006

Meeting the Home boy

Well, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State met with us, survivors from the bombed Piccadilly line tube, on Tuesday evening.

Dr Reid is a politician, I suspect, harbouring a severe case of short man syndrome. I can picture him, as a youth, battling with his comrades in a bulldog like manner. Doggedly fighting until the end, stubbornly refusing to be beaten or shamed.

He has not changed much. Whether it is job, his age, or he has been unchanged since birth, I do not know. But I can say with certainly that one thing he adores is the sound of his own voice. That man can talk.

He purposely, I imagine, seemed to miss the point by a whisker; launching himself instead into wordy responses whilst ambling through topics he felt safe discussing. ‘Discussing’ is perhaps too balanced a term, it was more of a monologue which frustrated ‘survivors’ eventually felt brave enough to challenge.

There was the hint of a patronising tone, which emerged from time to time. Something which fired me up and made me more determined than ever that we should match him at his game. For a game is what it was, and what it has been from the start.

The Government do not want a public enquiry, or indeed an independent one. They will meet with us and the families of those that died, but it is lip service at its very worst.

He delivered the Government line, although it has been edited behind the scenes. They are running out of excuses fast. The last 2 remaining were money and resources. Lack of money is not an argument that would stand against a newborn child. So they are left with their last round of ammunition which they are spending fast. ‘Resources’ it is, the reasoning behind the ‘no’. With Bloody Sunday (7 years and £20 million) cited repeatedly as a glowing example. ‘Surely’ I queried ‘it is your job to do it better?’. How is ‘this is a bad idea because last time it went wrong’ a credible reason not to forge ahead and do what’s right?

I told him that I felt the Government had been on the back foot since the moment those boys blew themselves up. They had been reactive instead of proactive. All we had heard was them telling us the reasons they weren’t going to have a public enquiry, where were the positive steps they were taking? ‘Surely’ I asked ‘ the single aim of every person in this room, is to do our damdest to stop this from happening again, and make sure we learn everything we possibly can from this experience so that next time we do it better?’. Sincere nodding all round to this. We should be working together, every single one of us, to uproot the seeds of this hatred, instead of playing political games. ‘This Government’ I said ‘ has been nothing but negative and defensive whenever this subject is raised’. A pause, a purple face followed by his retort ‘I am NOT being defensive!’ spluttered Dr Reid. Point proven I think.

Then how, I wondered, can a public enquiry be wrong? ‘I don’t care’, I told him, ‘if the enquiry brings up nothing more than we already know, I don’t care if it means you can turn around and say; you see, we were right’’. But there is no excuse to leave a single stone unturned and this will only be done by an independent party.

‘Resources’, he muttered from behind, his now familiar glow. ‘Muslims…Arabic speakers…ethnic minorities…takes a long time to train… it’s not lack of money it’s lack of trained manpower’. He said that MI5 had more important things to do like preventing further attacks. ‘Some questions’ he said ‘just don’t have answers’. MI5 has grown from 1,000 staff to 2,500 and is still expanding. At any one time, he said, there are tens of major terrorist investigations underway.

We have a lawyer in our midst and she was quick to interject. ‘Ten?’ she said’ at any one time?’ ‘In that case, could you tell me how many were involved in the case of the four bombers on 7th July’. He squirmed and avoided and would not answer the question. The point, she was powerfully making, is that it couldn’t have been more than about 20. An inquiry would not be carried out by MI5 itself, the clue there is in the word ‘independent’. Hence as many people as required could be gainfully employed in seeking the facts and that would not hamper the fight against terrorism. They would be lawyers, most probably, not members of the security services. Only 20 would be called upon to give evidence which would not, I suggest, hamper their productivity whilst it was happening. So, it seems to me, that resources has been quashed as an excuse too, so what is it now?

The question of the influence of Iraq came up and was, again, dismissed. 4 terrorist attacks have been prevented in this country in the last 15 months, he told us. I asked him how many had been uncovered prior to 7th July. I was hoping for it to be less and that giving me an opening to ask him why he thought that was. He was one step ahead though (that is why he is Home Secretary and I am not) and didn’t answer. Instead he told us that the first al Qaeda plot to be foiled in this country was in 2000 in Birmingham. He kept doing that, throwing in facts that we were bound to not know thus tripping us up on our way. In his opinion the first war in Iraq had a greater radicalising affect than this one. ‘Jermaine Lindsay, at the time was 4’, someone helpfully pointed out ‘I doubt he was radicalised by it at that age, do you?’

On the subject of the errors he has admitted in the narrative ‘we never said it was comprehensive’ he said. Oh well that’s ok then, silly me. They fully intend to communicate any further errors to us and will do their best to inform us when stories appearing in the press are untrue.

They are compiling a ‘lessons learnt’ report which will cover issues from before the attacks to concerns raised in their meetings with us. This is a ‘dialogue’ they said which they intend to continue. When pushed the Home Secretary would not commit to meeting us again, Tessa Jowell, however, did.

So another day, another meeting, who knows what was achieved; but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that I AM FEELING BETTER!