Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Five Years On - A London Bombings Inquiry Is Still Vital

Today is, of course, the fifth anniversary of a terrible, terrible crime - the bombings on the London underground and the attack on a bus in Tavistock Square.

Most Londoners remember that day vividly, either because of anxiously trying contacting friends on overloaded mobile phone networks or because of the huge disruption to public transport. But it already feels like a long time ago. So much has happened since and little has been good - the execution by armed police of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station, for example, or the the shooting of one of my neighbours in Forest Gate in June 2006.

One of the worst consequence of the July bombings was the draconian Terrorism Act of 2006 that increased pre-charge detention to 28 days - one of the highest levels of detention without charge anywhere in the world. It's worth remembering that at the time, Tony Blair wanted 90 days and over most the last five years, Labour in government repeatedly used the 'toughness' of its stance on terrorism as a political weapon, one that preyed on people's fears and was used to characterise anyone who expressed concerns about the gradual infringements on our civil liberties as little more than terrorist sympathisers.

It was shamelessly populist, but the 'terrorism virility test' is a tactic that the shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson is still using, even though one result over the last five years has been a growing paranoid suspicion of Muslims.

The ConDem government has promised to act on pre-charge detention (but extended it for another six months, which makes little sense). Nevertheless, there are other legacies of 2005 that it has not yet addressed. Whilst it been prepared to set up a "fully independent" inquiry, chaired by former Appeal Court judge Sir Peter Gibson, into claims that UK security services were complicit in the torture of terror suspects overseas, it has reneged on promises made in opposition by Clegg and Cameron for an proper inquiry into whether the London bombings could have been prevented. Even the inquests, which have taken five years to come to court and initially looked promising in addressing the issue of 'preventability', are facing rearguard legal manoeuvring from MI5, funded by government money.

Unlike some of those who were injured on 7 July 2005, I am rather relieved that ceremonies for today's anniversary has been fairly low-key and involved a minimum level of mawkish sermonising from government ministers. A more fitting legacy for those who were injured and killed would still be an independent public inquiry into the London bombings - but apparently its one that the new government seems as unwilling to offer as its scaremongering predecessor.

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