Friday, 13 July 2007

One of The Worst Days…

Thursday, twenty-ninth of July, two thousand and five. London felt as if it had been living on its nerves for weeks. You could feel the tension in the air, and the hot weather only increased it. We were living in West London, North Kensington (I always told people I lived at Ladbroke Grove – it always had a move cosmopolitan sound to it), and I had spent that morning shopping in nearby Sheppard’s Bush.

On the seventh of July, that year, the unthinkable had happened; London had been hit by suicide bombers. London had been the victim of terrorist bombing before, in the nineteen-seventies it seemed as if the IRA had tried to bomb the heart out of London, but never before had there been suicide bombers. Suicide bombers hold a different and previously unknown terror for us. They so deeply believe in their cause and that they are right that they’ll die for it. That was something new and threatening to us, fanatical terrorists willing to die, and something very difficult to stop.

Four suicide bombers blow themselves up at the height of the London rush hour, three on different tube trains and one on a bus, killing 52 people and injuring countless others. This left London emotionally shaken, thousands and thousands of people who weren’t directly involved were left stunned and shell-shocked – myself included.

Two weeks later there was another attack on the London transport network, but this time London’s luck held. The four suicide bombers failed, their bombs went off but all they managed were loud bangs and lots of mess, and these bombers fled. One of them, as he fled from the attempt to bomb a tube train at Sheppard’s Bush, dumped an unexploded bomb in the small park at the end of my then street. We actually drove past were the unexploded bomb was left, only a couple of hours before was found – two days after those failed attacks. But the worst came on Thursday 29th July 2007.

That day I had been shopping and was returning home, at twelve-thirty, as usual I had got off the bus on Ladbroke Grove and was walking the five minutes up the road to our flat. As I turned the corner I saw the end of my road sealed off by the police, red police tap stretched right across the road and there was a large number of police there – many of them armed. I went up to one of the police officers and asked him what was happening, saying I needed to get home, he just replied that there was a “terrorist incident” and they were not letting anyone through. Moments later there was a very loud bang and the police pushed everyone right back. It was then that I was gripped by fear, real and very sharp fear. I’ve never been so afraid and so lost at the same moment. I was stood on the street, all hell breaking loss around me, and my main safe-haven, my home, was barred to me.

That afternoon and early evening was spent in a fog of shock and disbelieve. At the time I worked just around the corner from were I lived and so I went into work, though off duty, because it was the only safe place I could think of. Fortunately for me, our Mental Health Lead Nurse, Mary Murphy, was on duty. She was brilliant and just talked with me, helped to calm me, as much as I could on that strange day. Martin, my partner, rush back and seeing him was a deep relief. Just being with him was a step back to normality, as much as we could. Martin and I spent most the afternoon and early evening just wondering around our area of West London. Our comfort zone of our home was barred to us, so we walked slowly down to Sheppard’s Bush, were I had been only that morning.

Those hours we spent in limbo, before we could finally be let back into our flat, were a strange and listless time. In the area around our home everyone seemed know that there was something going on involving terrorists, everyone seemed to be on edge about it, but the further away we walked the less people seemed aware of it. At Sheppard’s Bush we sat in a pub for a few hours, killing time, and so many people around us seemed so unaware of what had happened. I wanted to shout at them that there were terrorists just up the road, that there were terrorists on our very doorstep.

One of the worst parts of it, those hours we spent wondering around, while we couldn’t be get into our home, was not knowing what was going on. All we knew was that it was a “terrorist incident”, there was police everywhere, sealing off the area around our then home and that I had heard an explosion. We had no access to the internet and everywhere we went nowhere had the news on, we were lost for information. In our twenty-four hour news culture, that day Martin and I were cut off from it. It was after seven o’clock, as we made our way back to our flat, that I found out the bare bones of what had happened. My friend Andrew called me to see if we were all right and I found out that two suspected terrorists had been arrested.

It was only when we were finally allowed back into our home that we were able to piece together what had happened. Two men, suspected of taking part in the failed attacks the week before, had been arrested. The explosion I’d heard was the police throwing smoke bombs into the flat to flush out the men. They were the men whose image, of them surrendering to the police dressed only in their underwear with their arms raised in the air, was shown around the world. The worst element was that those men had been living in the next block of flats to our own; they had been living just down the street from us. Martin recognised them, he had seen them at our local bus stop, I’d been in our local shop at the same time as them, they had been living along side of us. Terrorists had been living less then a hundred meters from our very home.

I found it difficult to relax after that, for many days. Every time I heard a police or ambulance siren I’d physically jump, my nerves pulled on edge. Every time I was outside, especially when I was on public transport, I would find myself staring at people and wondering if they too were terrorists, it didn’t matter what their race or gender was. Every time there was a mention of the arrests on the media, in the days after you couldn’t avoid it, I’d find myself physically tense up. I was physically unharmed by it all but I just could not relax, for days and days.

Four days ago the trail of those two men, and the other four men involved in those failed attacks, ended, though two of the defends the jury failed to reach verdicts on and so there’ll be a re-trail ( ). The two men who arrested on Thursday 29th July 2007 were found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of forty years in prison.

The experience has left a deep impression on me, one I’ll never forget, I feel less safe here in the city that I love. I’ve moved away from North Kensington, there have been no further suicide bombings in London, and I’m no longer tensing every time I hear a police siren, but I no longer feel that comfortable safeness I once felt here in London, though I certainly have no plans to leave this city.

Hollywood and television would like to give us the impression that terrorists are evil and mad, you can easily spot them by their evil stare, but in reality terrorist are just ordinary people, living ordinary lives but, for whatever reason, have extraordinary and very dangerous believes. A terrorist can look like anyone else, I know because I’ve stood at a bus stop and waited to be served in a local shop with terrorists and I never knew it.


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