7/7 10th anniversary: Redbridge borough commander Sue Williams remembers ‘horrific’ day
PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 July 2015
Sirens and screams pierce the air while dust and debris thunders down, crowds of people moving silently through the streets, numb at what they have just witnessed.
This was the scene of the 7/7 bombings on July 7 2005, which saw 52 people killed in four explosions on London’s transport network.
The terrorist attacks sent shockwaves through the country, with families desperate to hear if their loved ones were safe.
Det Ch Supt Sue Williams remembers the “horrific” day all too well. Now Redbridge’s borough commander, Mrs Williams led the police’s family liaison unit on 7/7, which took calls from all over the world and supported families through their grief.
She said: “When it happened it was a shock for all of us.
“I was already at work in Earls Court and when it started communications went down. No one knew what was going on.
“As soon as we knew there had been an incident, we knew there had been one or two – we didn’t know there were four incidents.
“We knew there were mass casualties, but didn’t know the extent.”
Along with others, Mrs Williams was sent to the Metropolitan Police Service’s centre at Hendon.
With her superior, Commander Steve Allen, needed at Scotland Yard, the then Detective Chief Inspector was promoted to lead the family liaison strategy.
She said: “Everybody was running around trying to set up these massive operations and systems.
“A ‘fortunate’ in a way, I suppose, was the tsunami on Boxing day, which happened six months before.
“A lot of British people were involved in that and we put up family liaison services at Hendon.
“We were able to adapt the systems we put in place then.”
Mrs Williams’ team answered calls from around the globe and any families whose fears came true were flown into London.
Families were assigned liaison officers, who took them to identify their loved ones at a temporary morgue in Artillery Garden, on the land of the Honourable Artillery Company, near Old Street.
Mrs Williams said: “It was obviously quite distressing for them.
“For those who came from abroad, the bodies were later repatriated and some of the officers were invited to the funerals.
“But we couldn’t always send them abroad. I had to make some difficult decisions.
“At Edgware Road, it took longer for the bodies to be moved – some may have been there for 24 hours.
“It was horrific.”
In February 2006, Mrs Williams was presented with a police award for her “outstanding professionalism and dedication to duty”.
The immediate aftermath of 7/7 manifested itself in the fear which took over Londoners.
Det Ch Supt Sue Williams said: “No one wanted to get on a train. Even I felt it myself when I had to go through one of the stops a few days later.
“People were nervous when anybody got on with a rucksack or when someone from the Muslim community got on. There was a lot of hate crime against Muslim communities.
“Then the 21/7 failed bombings happened.
“It was a really stressful and awful time.”
On 21/7, the family liaison service at Hendon sprung into action again.
The Det Ch Supt said: “If we had another set of mass casualties, we had to be ready to take the calls from members of the public.”
After 7/7, Mrs Williams moved into a role focused on diversities and communities.
She said: “We went round a lot of places talking to people. We talked to people about extremism and their concerns.
“Somebody had to pull it all together and I took responsibility for that role.
“I set up an engagement team and they monitored community tensions.”
The police also visited London schools to “break myths around extremism”.
But Mrs Williams’ mind was not only on 7/7, but also interacting with people more generally.
This included making sure there were Independent Advisory Groups for communities such as LGBT people and those with disabilities.
“It is important to understand communities”, said Mrs Williams.
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