Clifford Tibber is a partner with Anthony Gold solicitors who represented 7 bereaved families at the inquests into those who died in the London Bombings on 7 July 2005. Speaking in the The Times today he says:
"Lawyers are trained to manage large volumes of documents, work long hours within tight timetables, consider complex legal arguments and communicate with clients. We are trained to be objective, dispassionate and emotionally detached. But no amount of training could prepare me for these inquests.
By any standards this was a big case. More than 6,300 documents (about 60,000 pages) and hours of audio and video recordings all delivered electronically, 17 teams of lawyers, live audio and visual feeds to a large purpose-built annexe and huge plasma screens for evidence from around the world by video link. For the best part of 12 months we worked flat out, often seven days a week, to comply with the tight timetable.
What set these inquests apart from any other case was not the scale, however, but the bereaved families. Emotional detachment proved the most difficult part. I’m not sure that it was ever going to be possible when dealing with such emotive and graphic evidence while getting to know the people who were deeply affected. It was my job to help the families to get the answers that they had been desperately seeking for five years. Exactly how did their loved one die? Was anyone with them to offer comfort? Could more have been done to help them?Could the bombings have been prevented?
No two families were alike. They were different ages, came from different backgrounds and different places. Their loss was deeply personal. Whether it was a parent, partner, sibling or child, the loss affected each of them differently. To understand their needs and expectations, my team and I got to know them well and, with their help, we also got to know the person who had died. At times it was a painful process. It meant intruding on family grief, sometimes in the privacy of their own home surrounded by memories of their loved one. By the time a family member told the inquests about their loved one - what they had achieved and what hopes and aspirations remained unfulfilled - we felt we knew who they were talking about and we grieved with them.
We sifted through the evidence to find the answers to their questions: piecing together their final journey, identifying who was with them as they died, and finding out what had caused their death. Telling the families what we had discovered was hard. We agonised many times over whether to share distressing evidence which perhaps they would rather not know. But they had to be told that it existed so they could choose whether or not to look at it.
For 75 days the court heard the most harrowing evidence. Survivors recounted the horror of the bomb scenes and told how, despite their own injuries, they did what they could to help their fellow passengers. Evidence about the operational difficulties encountered by the emergency services was followed by the operational constraints that limited the flow of information from the Security Service. Throughout, the families sat at the back of the court in dignified silence, listening, watching and hoping to learn more. It was intellectually stimulating but emotionally and physically draining. Working through the night was commonplace, sharing thoughts and strategy with Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Patrick O’Connor, QC, two of the most brilliant and hardworking barristers it has ever been my privilege to work with.
It wasn’t about winning and losing but we had our successes. Our team successfully challenged the Security Service’s wish to exclude families from some of the evidence. We made sure that witness G, the MI5 officer, would be seen by the families when he gave evidence. The families were eventually allowed to read their very personal statements about their loved ones.
The most important thing now is that some good should emerge from this terrible atrocity, that the past should inform the future and that if any mistakes were made they should not be repeated. The families have asked the Coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, to make 32 recommendations that they believe might help to prevent other deaths in the future and demonstrate that lessons have been learnt from this tragedy.
The memorial at Hyde Park is a tribute to those who died. A willingness by the authorities to implement the recommendations that are made will provide a further lasting legacy."
For further information email Clifford Tibber or call 020 7940 4000.