What is justice? I have been chairing a conference at which this simple question was asked of people….
What is justice? I have been chairing a conference at which this simple question was asked of people who have been through terrible experiences. One couple whose 16-year-old son was murdered in an unprovoked assault in a bakery saw the assailant sentenced to a minimum of 14 years. What was justice in their case? The satisfaction of knowing that the murderer had been punished; that he will spend all of his early adult life in prison? No. The mother of the murdered boy summed up her view of justice in two words: ‘The truth’. That is what mattered most to her and her family – that the facts had been examined in open court; that the guilt of the accused had been proved; that the case had been formally laid to rest; that the truth had been established. Among victims, this need to know – this yearning for the truth – goes deep.
If justice is indeed the truth, we have waited almost five years for the truth about the London bombings. 7/7 has entered the language as grim shorthand for the terrorist atrocity on the public transport system in which 52 innocent people, and four suicide bombers, died. Yet, as a significant anniversary approaches, there are many troubling questions to be answered. An inquest is finally to be opened in October. Not the least of these questions is why it has taken so long for that essential formality to be arranged.
At Edgware Road tube station – the incident I know most about – 90 vital minutes elapsed before any medical help arrived. Until recently it was assumed that the delay, here and elsewhere, made no difference to the mortally wounded. But now there are suggestions that the extraordinary lapse of time may have cost lives. Finding out whether there is any truth in these suggestions will be part of the search for the larger truth about what happened in London that day.
For 90 minutes in the underground chaos at Edgware Road, a small number of volunteers – passengers who heroically stayed behind after most had fled to safety – tended to the wounded and gave comfort to the dying. When help did at last arrive, it did so in the form of a young, inexperienced paramedic, a wonderful girl as it turned out, but that is not really the point. Why a paramedic? Why were doctors and fully qualified nurses not despatched to the scene? These questions have never been satisfactorily answered.
There are further suggestions that the authorities may have been less than candid with the families of some of the victims. One family were informed that their loved one died instantly, experiencing no pain or suffering; for almost five years they may have derived some comfort from this understanding. As the inquest approaches, however, the original version of the facts is being significantly revised. It appears that the loved one may not have died instantly after all, but went on living for around 45 minutes and had a short conversation with someone. What was said during this conversation, if it took place? Did the dying person give any message intending it to be passed on? The feelings of the family in the face of these distressing revelations can be imagined.
A humane decision about the conduct of the inquest has been taken. The inquest into the deaths of the 52 innocents will be held separately from the inquest into the deaths of the four bombers. There is a growing confidence that members of the security services and others in sensitive positions will not be excused their duty to give evidence. There is some faith in the coroner.
If justice is indeed the truth, we may be nearer to achieving it. The families whose loved ones are commemorated in the beautiful memorial in Hyde Park deserve no less.
Read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.