Inquest into London 2005 bombings begins

LONDON (Reuters) - The inquests into the deaths of 52 people killed in the London suicide bombings of July 7, 2005, are due to begin on Monday with the focus on whether the attacks on the capital’s transport system could have been prevented.

Four British Islamists -- Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Hasib Hussain, 18, and Jermaine Lindsay, 19, -- detonated homemade bombs on three packed underground trains and a bus in the worst peacetime attacks in London.

The inquests will be the first public examination of the blasts and events leading up to them.

Families of victims and survivors have long called for a full public inquiry into the bombings, arguing that official accounts have been insufficient, inaccurate and misleading.

Their demands have been fuelled by revelations in subsequent years that two of the bombers had come onto the radar of the security services but were not deemed significant threats.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, ministers had stated the men were unknown to the authorities and were “clean skins”

However, the former Labour government rejected inquiry calls, saying there was no evidence to support claims warnings were ignored, and arguing it would distract the stretched security services at a time when the country is at risk.

Britain is at its second highest threat level, “Severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely.

Lawyers for relatives said there were two key questions that the inquests now needed to answer: could more have been done to help those who died and could the bombings have been prevented?

“It is disgraceful that there has never been a public, judicial examination of all the facts which is truly independent of the government, the police and the security service,” said lawyer Clifford Tibber, whose firm represents families of six of the victims.

“These inquests represent the first opportunity for a public examination of the facts and to consider, if there were failings, what lessons have been learned.”

Evidence given at court cases since 2005 has shown that Tanweer and the bombers’ ringleader Khan were photographed, recorded and followed by intelligence operatives several times in early 2004 in the company of plotters later jailed for planning attacks using fertiliser-based bombs.

However, a report by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) last year concluded the domestic spy agency MI5 could not have prevented the bombings because it lacked the resources to investigate Khan properly.

It said neither Khan nor Tanweer had been considered “essential” targets.

The coroner, Lady Justice Heather Hallett, has already said that the inquests would examine the roles and any possible failures of the police and MI5.

“I want the inquests to look at whether any mistakes were made or flawed systems were in place,” said Ros Morley whose husband Colin died in the explosion carried out by Khan at Edgware Road station.

Police have always maintained that the four bombers received help from other people with links to al Qaeda. However, no one has ever been convicted of any involvement and last year three men were cleared of helping to plot the attacks.

Reporting by Michael Holden