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London remembers the victims of 7/7, a decade later

10 July 2015

Tim Wyatt reports on the service in St Paul’s Cathedral to commemorate the dead and injured of the 7/7 bombings


Pausing to reflect:petals fall to the floor during the service at St Paul’s

Pausing to reflect:petals fall to the floor during the service at St Paul’s

THE nation came to a standstill on Tuesday to mark the ten years since the terror attacks in London on 7 July 2005, when 52 people were killed.

At a service in St Paul’s Cathedral, politicians from past and present joined with leaders of religious groups, survivors of the attacks, foreign ambassadors, and members of the emergency services to commemorate the occasion.

The hymns and the readings — read by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, among others — expressed the theme of God’s overcoming the darkness and evil of the world, reminders to his fearful people that he would draw near, comfort them, and bring peace.

Four candles had earlier been lit at the places where each bomb had been detonated: in Tube tunnels beneath Aldgate, and Edgware Road, and between King’s Cross and Russell Square, and also at Tavistock Square, where a Number 30 bus was blown up.

At St Paul’s, the candles were carried to the altar by representatives from the police, fire, and ambulance services, as the choir sang “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and the pain of death shall not touch them. . .”

The congregation fell silent at 11.30 a.m. for a minute, and thousands of petals of red and white paper were released from a gallery in the dome of the cathedral.

They caught the sunlight that streamed through the windows as they fluttered to the floor. Dignitaries, members of the congregation, and journalists dabbed at damp eyes as the roll call of the 52 victims’ names was read out.

Alongside such traditional British surnames as Adams, Russell, and Stevenson were others, such as Rosenberg, Yuen, Günoral, Ikeagwu, and Sharifi — a reminder of London’s diversity. Later, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, noted during his sermon that, alongside Christians and people of no faith who had died in the bombings, had been Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists.

He condemned the attack as a “terrible crime which robbed us of beloved sons and daughters, partners and friends”, and paid tribute to the “courage and humanity” of the emergency services.

He also praised the united response to the incident from the various faith groups in London, all of whom were represented in the cathedral. “One of the lessons of today is that there must be no let-up in building and repairing the friendships which are so vital at times of crisis,” he said.

At the climax of the service, Bishop Chartres joined Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist leaders to repeat the pledge that they had made at a rally at Trafalgar Square a week after 7 July 2005: “We belong to different faith traditions, but we share a common grief at the suffering which has been inflicted on so many of our fellow men and women, here and abroad,” Bishop Chartres said.

“We recommit ourselves to fostering the mutual trust . . . so that [we] may flourish side by side on the basis of respect and understanding.”

Clergy whose churches were close to Tube stations and became ad hoc response-centres for the injured and traumatised ten years ago also led prayers, with chaplains from the police and fire services. The service closed with the hymn “God is love: let heav’n adore him”, which was also sung at a memorial service in November 2005.

The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement after the service had finished, linking the London bombings with the terror attack in Tunisia last week: “Today, the survivors and families of the 7/7 London attacks continue the journey that those of Tunisia have just begun. Our hearts grieve with those who lost loved ones ten years ago, and with those so . . . cruelly bereaved less than a fortnight ago.”

Archbishop Welby also said that the terrorists’ hopes of using their bombs to divide communities had failed, shown by projects such as Near Neighbours, which were drawing people of different faiths and cultures together.

The previous day, the last person to be rescued alive from the bombings, Gill Hicks, walked from King’s Cross Station to Tavistock Square as part of a national initiative to commemorate the victims.

Ms Hicks, who lost both her legs in the explosion, was joined by the imam of the largest mosque in Leeds, Qari Asim; the senior rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner; and the Vicar of All Hallows’ by the Tower, the Revd Bertrand Olivier.

The group were promoting the campaign #WalkTogether, in which people in London and across the UK on their way to work were urged to get off the bus, train, or Tube one stop early on 7 July, and walk the rest of the distance as an act of “remembrance and unity”.

Ms Hicks said that she was walking to reaffirm her belief in the power of shared humanity: “My life was saved by strangers, people who never gave up, people who risked their own lives to save mine. To them, I was a precious human life — my rescue wasn’t dependent on my faith, my colour, my gender, or wealth.”

Mr Olivier said: “On this tenth anniversary, it is clearer than ever that we must keep working together as neighbours with hope, tolerance, and care to ensure that extremists who seek to drive a wedge between us do not succeed.”

In a blog written for the Huffington Post to mark the anniversary, the Rector of St George the Martyr, Holborn, the Revd John Valentine, recalled walking into Russell Square Station to minister to the injured and dying. “One man was wrapped in a blanket from the waist down, it was black with blood. I don’t know if he had lost his legs.

“I knelt beside him. He looked me in the eye, and asked with courage and terror: ‘Am I going to die?’”

But, Mr Valentine wrote, he saw God at work. “In the middle of the horror, He was. The courage of ordinary people. The dedication and tenacity of the medics. . . The policeman asking for prayer, shaking with the strain, but then five minutes later calm, directing the anxious crowd. . . We saw Jesus walking the streets of Holborn that day.”

One of the most enduring stories from 7/7 is that of Jenny Nicholson. The 24-year-old Ph.D. student died in the Edgware Road bombing, and her mother, Julie, then a Church of England parish priest, resigned her post as she felt she could not forgive the terrorists. The tale was retold in the BBC1 drama A Song for Jenny, on Sunday.

Mrs Nicholson’s former husband, Greg, spoke to Radio 5 Live on Tuesday morning. There were no words, he said, to describe the feeling of loss when the family was finally told, five days later, that their “brilliant” daughter was dead.

“My then-wife talks a lot on radio and TV,” he said. “It’s always been ‘How are you coping? How are you doing?’ Nothing at all about her husband or the kids. It’s a bit hard sometimes.”

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