One Morning In London
Scotland NEC member Jane Carolan was at UNISON HQ within
short walking distance of three of the bombings on 7 July.
Thursday 7th July started as another UNISON day.
The weather had turned from summer to dreich overnight and few
of us in London on union business were prepared for it. I was
chairing the Service Group Liaison Committee and knew that it
was going to be an all day affair. Colleagues from Scotland
were attending that, and others were in London for the Women's
Committee and for the Energy executive. There was the usual
round of greetings, as we all appeared in the hotel that morning
for breakfast and the gossip about what was going on in the
union and how we had survived Conference.
Euston Road was as busy as usual with nose to tail traffic
at nine when I crossed the road to Mabledon. As I went up in
the lift a friend commented that the underground at King's Cross-was
chaotic as there had been a power surge and the trains were
going off. It was a bit of a regular occurrence and meant that
some committee members might be late but not a cause for concern.
Then someone else said that the trains were also halted and
a sense that it wasn't just the usual London travel problems
started to emerge.
Nothing concrete was mentioned at that stage but a sense of
unease was emerging. The TV news was continuing as normal so
we tried the Internet. The BBC site was reporting traffic nightmares,
as several underground and rail stations were closed or closing.
There was no sense of danger, just a feeling that the working
day would be disrupted. I decided to make a few phone calls
and yes, that if I was doing that I might as well have a fag
at the same time.
Police sirens were much in evidence from the Mabledon Place
stairs but I just got on with the work I had to do. It was while
I was there that there was an unmistakeable BOOM. I ignored
it and carried on talking but conversation quickly became impossible.
The noise from police cars, ambulances, fire engines and police
cars was too much, as they rushed through the Euston traffic.
We went back to the TV. Shortly after there was an announcement
that all rail and underground traffic was closed and that a
bus had been involved in an accident in Upper Woburn place,
a few hundred yards away. A sense that something was happening
was growing and while no one would have admitted it, a sense
that we were all frightened. It was impossible to ask people
to concentrate so meetings were cancelled and everyone asked
to stay in the building. Members congregated around the TV waiting
for what was going to happen next, fearful of what it would
be. The smokers returned to the steps.
By now Euston Rd was blocked off and only emergency vehicles
were getting through. There was no chattering, just a constant
vigil, watching what was obviously a major incident unfold.
The rumours started. One bus had been bombed. We guessed Woburn
Place. Then someone said five buses. Inside the building managers
were asked to account for all members of staff expected in that
day and lay members counted up. A staff member who had been
on the bus arrived at work, and by now we knew, lucky to be
alive as the first pictures of the atrocity appeared on TV.
There was no panic, no disarray, just foreboding about what
was happening on our doorstep.
We could only wait. No mobile contact was possible, so there
were queues for phones, as everyone wanted to get the message
out to relatives and friends that they were ok and in a safe
place. In Glasgow the message that I was ok was followed by
an enquiry about why would I not be? The scale of the tragedy
on our doorstep was not yet appreciated by those at work in
other parts of the country nor at that time, even by us.
Five staff members were reported as not being at work and frantic
attempts were being made to find out where they were, hampered
by the reliance on mobile technology. We thought by then that
the underground incidents were also bombs and the media was
confirming that, though precisely where or how was a matter
of dispute. Two members of staff had been in Russell Square
at the time of the blast but were leaving when the bomb went
off. The police cordon round central London was confirmed.
Our best information about what to do came directly from communication
from the police who kept officers up to date on a need to know
basis as neither the internet nor the TV was reliable. What
was passed on to officers was passed on to us, as Dave Prentis
arranged regular briefings in the Conference chamber for all
We watched and waited, the sound of sirens the constant accompaniment.
The complete lack of other traffic and the closure of all businesses
on one of London's busiest streets was astounding. By now we
knew that we were at the heart of a terrorist attack but could
do nothing. Two young women appeared in our building, survivors
from the King's Cross bomb, totally confused and dazed and thankfully
not badly injured, but with the stains of fellow less fortunate
passengers on their clothing.
Emergency plans were drawn up .All London traffic was at a
standstill, and the chances of getting us home seemed remote.
Hotels were not taking bookings. It seemed that Mabledon Place
might be a temporary hotel for us and staff who could not get
home. Everyone accepted it. Everyone was stoical and calm and
no one wanted to fuss. Some of us were shaking. Sharing a joke
on the front steps was followed by a guilty feeling that we
Time passed slowly and the nature of the events became more
apparent. Three underground blasts and one in a bus round the
corner from the office. But our staff were accounted for, and
all the lay members due in Mabledon that day. Someone suggested
going to give blood but we were still caught in the cordon.
Still the sirens screamed.
Slowly some normality returned. People appeared on the streets
as police indicated that it was ok to start what for some was
the long walk home. There was no panic, no disarray. Rooms were
found for those who needed them, and we quietly made our way
there, as mobile phones suddenly went mental, receiving calls
from friends and colleagues who knew we were in London and needed
reassurance. ( and thanks to all those who did ) But the usual
banter and joking was replaced by a sense of relief that we
were all right but that we were surrounded by slaughter.
It started as our usual Thursday. It ended in tragedy. We
went home, wearily and warily on Friday. All of us who were
there have nothing but gratitude for Dave Prentis and the Mabledon
staff. We would all echo the comments made by Dave about the
magnificent efforts of public service workers.
I consider myself a Glaswegian. But at the moment I feel that
I'm a little bit of a Londoner as well, and want to stand with
them in solidarity against this barbarity.