MI5 in the dock over 7/7 trial failure

Have English victims of Islamist terrorism received a better service than victims of all violence in Northern Ireland? The acquittal of friends of the 7/7 bombers casts deep doubt on the competence of the police and security services to deliver. There are echoes of Omagh, with suggestions that a security service withheld or overlooked crucial evidence, of demands for a public inquiry that will never be granted and a huge multi-million pound cost. Above all the cravings of victims for a credible explanation remain. Peter Clarke, the head of the Met’s anti-terrorism branch in 2005 comes near to saying these were the men the Met wanted to convict.

“The core of the investigation was the people that were in court over the last few weeks.”

And yet key conspirators were never caught, suggesting that a wall of silence remains intact. “

At least 10 sets of fingerprints found at the bomb factories have never been identified.”

A report on MI5’s role by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee is now eagerly awaited. Do crucial questions about the security service’s role stand a chance of being answered? This is a big test of the ISC’s credibility. The committee’s earlier failure to press for full evidence from MI5 doesn’t inspire confidence. The committee meets in private, is appointed by the Prime Minister who can withhold publication of reports. The committee chairman is usually a former minister: Paul Murphy and Margaret Beckett held the post before they went back into government. The present chairman Kim Howells, a former Foreign Office Minister is more of a loose cannon and is keen to publish.
“We would publish it tomorrow if we felt we were absolutely certain it was not going to impact on any other legal action that may be taken,” said Mr Howells.

The Guardian understands the ISC report details how MI5 officers monitored four meetings in early 2004 between Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer – the ringleaders of the 7/7 attacks – and Omar Khyam, the ringleader of a plot to blow up shopping centres and nightclubs who was jailed for life in 2007. Ali was also at some of the meetings. Whatever the report says, I bet that when some of the dust has settled, an increasingly vocal MI5 will come out with some sort of defence.

The Guardian highlight crucial questions that have not been answered:

• Why MI5 and police did not take more urgent steps to identify Khan and Tanweer, whom they had photographed and bugged.

• Whether Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch or MI5 alerted West Yorkshire police about everything they knew.

• Has the ISC now been given all the new evidence, including about links between the plotters here and camps in Pakistan?

Victims make a familiar cry:

We are not looking for people to blame, but we also know that we have not been told the whole truth. If mistakes have been made, they should be put right, not covered up. This is not a witch hunt, it is simply about saving lives.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London