7/7 Detective Says Security Services Obstructed Investigation

July 06, 2015

Early on the morning of Thursday July 7th 2005 Detective Sergeant David Videcette was sitting alone in a satellite office used by the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist squad. It was two weeks after the birth of his daughter, and he did not yet know that the events of the day would consume his life and mean that he would barely return home again for five years. “It was absolutely and totally out of the blue,” he says, remembering watching the first reports of a power surge on the London Underground scroll across the television mounted on the wall. “I’ve lived in London my whole life and I don’t ever remember a power surge. I thought it was strange.”

By the time multiple power surges were reported Videcette knew something was wrong. His first calls confirmed that no one knew exactly what was going on – but soon the reality became clear: a terror attack on the London transport system with multiple bombs that would kill 52 people and injure 770 others. From a police perspective, Videcette says, “We had no idea it was coming.”

Most of Videcette’s colleagues, and the squad’s transportation, were in Scotland protecting the G8 meeting that was taking place in Gleneagles, so Videcette’s first act was to hire all the cars at a car rental franchise across the street and arrange for them to be driven to the scene of the bus bombing in Tavistock Square to help move forensic evidence. Videcette arrived in Tavistock Square at lunchtime, crossing two police cordons and picking his way past other forensic officers moving up the street collecting debris for future examination.

In that moment he felt little emotion, having trained himself to turn his feelings on and off to cope with many of the horrors he saw as part of his job: “You get the ability to switch your emotions off and just become fairly robotic, and just get on with what you’re supposed to do.” He adds that he formed an initial impression that the bus had been blown up in high intensity explosion very different to the other terrorism event he had worked on – the IRA’s bombing of Canary Wharf in 1996. Videcette was still a new recruit back then, but he had wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a policeman all his life. After growing up in South-East London during the IRA bombing campaigns of the 1970s and 80’s, he worked hard to join the Anti-Terrorist branch – but once there he found a reduced squad of only sixty officers operating in a lull between terror activities after the 1994 IRA ceasefire. The events of September 11th 2001 changed all of that as the role and size of the squad vastly increased to deal with the new threat from Al Qaida.

While his colleagues raced back from Scotland, Videcette worked through the night in the first crucial stages of the investigation. It was only the following day when he visited a witness who had been standing behind the bus in Tavistock Square that the appalling nature of the attack hit him. The witness said: “I was walking along the road, there was a big white flash of light in front of me, and all of a sudden I was covered in blood.” When Videcette retrieved the man’s clothes from the washing basket “it was literally like somebody had poured a bucket of blood over him.” It struck Videcette then that 52 families had been devastated by losing the people they loved, and he says he felt a strong calling to do his best to bring those families justice through the investigation. “I’ve conditioned myself over a number of years to deal with what we saw that day…but I was felt incredibly sorry for everybody involved, and for the first time I remember feeling the emotional upset.”

Investigations like 7/7 are painstaking and difficult. “First we’ve got to clear up the scenes, and we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the evidence and we understand what’s gone on. Around the immediate we’ve obviously got a number of witnesses and a number of people that have seen things. Then over and above that you’ve also got people who think they’ve seen things. When it’s an investigation of that size it becomes increasingly difficult to devote enough resources into discovering whether any of those things are relevant.” The situation was made more complicated Videcette says, by factors like the fact that many of the witnesses were wounded and had walked off after the explosions to be treated in the nearest hospitals and clinics. Speaking to those witnesses was vital, but hospitals at first refused to reveal any details of who they had treated because of patient confidentiality.

ID evidence and CCTV footage quickly established the identity of the bombers as Germaine Lindsay, Mohammed Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain – and Videcette began working on the Leeds arm of the investigation, sometimes returning home to see his family once a fortnight. As his work progressed he became increasingly frustrated that the investigation was only pursuing leads that the bombers had wanted them to find.

The usual course of action of interviews with friends and families were often fruitless. “They had, for some months, disconnected themselves so when we interviewed friends and families it was like, “Well yeah, we used to see each other. I used to play cricket with him. I used to go to the gym with him, but he’d become very distant over the last few months and I haven’t really seen him for about the last six to eight months.”

Videcette says the investigation spent months tracking down the origins of a loaf of bread recovered from one of the bomb factories, hoping to discover who had bought it. “You can imagine doing that 3,000 times with different pieces of evidence, imagine the immense amount of work that we had to do just to find out that actually that was a complete waste of time.”

The key to a breakthrough in the investigation lay instead in working with the mobile phone data, Videcette believed. “The significance of the phone data – that’s where we start really to make in-roads in terms of forwarding the investigation. Going after loaves of bread and rice packets – I became very frustrated in that. I make no secret about that. I became very frustrated in that at quite an early stage and I felt there was lots of things that we could have done differently and I started to look at the phone data.”

Using phone data, Videcette believes he was able to put together a comprehensive look back in time to see what the bombers had been doing, and who they had been communicating with. That work, however, brought him into conflict with managers and other members of the squad. “They were very unhappy with me There were internal arguments and fights and conflicts. I found that people were very unwilling. Some of them are really good detectives, but I always held the view that we found things the bombers wanted us to find and following the evidence that they wanted us to find wasn’t ever going to lead us to somewhere that was going to give us the information that we needed.”

In particular Videcette believes the investigation was hampered by the relationship between the police and the security services. “I felt, personally that we weren’t able to progress the things that we should have progressed…” He adds that “At a terrorist level the police are beholden to what the Security Service will allow us to know and also when we want to progress something how that affects the wider picture.”

Comparing terrorism to a tree, Videcette says he wanted to cut all the big trees down, while the security services had a strategy that involved lopping off lots of small individual leaves. “It’s within their interest to ensure that they are constantly tapped into the trunks of the tree so they know where the branches are and they know when the leaves are going to come out. Then constantly they can keep saying, “Well we foiled another attack, we’ve stopped another leaf on the tree”. He concludes by saying – “I wanted to deal with the trees but I couldn’t.”

As a result of the 7/7 investigation Videcette went on to develop a ‘traffic light’ system, in use today, to identify the most hard-core and dangerous potential terrorists but in 2013 he left the police and began to assess the toll that the investigation had taken on his life.

“I couldn’t sleep at night sometimes because I was constantly thinking about these people who thought they could get away with it. They were my life and I lived that life for years. I felt a personal call to help the 52 families that had lost their lives and they became the focus of my drive.” At the time he told people he was doing the most important thing he would ever do in his life, but now he regrets the time he missed with his family. “I had a couple of weeks of paternity leave. Then I went to work straight away and I didn’t come home for five years. That was my decision, but I missed my daughter starting to walk, I missed the first time she went in the water and all those moments.”

Now Videcette has written a fictionalised account of the investigation due to be published in the autumn which he hopes will explain to people the detailed nature of his work, as well as his conclusions about the perpetrators of the 7/7 attack. He plans to donate some of the proceeds to a scheme that helps police officers dealing with post-traumatic stress, and says the book is his way of resolving his own role in the investigation and his emotions. Looking back he remains noncommittal about whether the investigation was a success “In terms of what is successful – was it successful? I don’t know. The Security Service didn’t want us to have all the feedback.” His book, he says is about reflecting on the role he personally played. “It’s about understanding can we really change this stuff, can one person really make that much of a difference?”

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