As the UK marks the 13th anniversary of the London bombings, two former police officers recall what it was like on that horrific day
“Are you all right dad?”. British Transport Police (BTP) dog handler Steve Gould didn’t know it, but a phone call on 7 July, 2005, was about to set in motion a series of events that would lead him to the worst experience of his career.
A member of the force’s explosive search dog unit, Steve had finished a night shift searching Windsor & Eton Riverside railway station ahead of a visit from the Royal Train. After arriving home in Essex in the early hours of the morning, he headed for some much-needed rest but was interrupted when his son rang to ask if he was okay following reports of an explosion on the London Underground.
Although initially described as a power surge, the reality was far worse. At around 08:50 three bombs were detonated on the Tube, with a later explosion taking place onboard a bus. Steve rang the office and, with his dog Buddy, was called into the unfolding chaos.
“I went straight to King’s Cross with my blue lights and two-tones on,” said Steve, who retired in 2010. “I had to do a search of the outside area because they thought there might be a helicopter landing and they were looking for secondary devices.”
Steve was then directed to search one of the blast sites, a train situated in a tunnel between King’s Cross and Russell Square stations on the Piccadilly line. Although the explosive device had already been detonated, the train had to be checked for secondary devices – a bomb intended to target emergency responders and gathered bystanders – to allow colleagues to proceed.
Putting on his bomb suit and heading into the Underground from King’s Cross, Steve and Buddy were joined by colleague Paul Deboick and his dog Leo. As luck would have it, Paul had been on a training day at the Heathrow Express maintenance depot, West London, when he was called to Euston Road. Before heading down to the train, Paul had already conducted a search of five London buses that were commandeered to get the shocked and those with minor injuries away from the scene.
Walking along the Tube platforms, Steve described the “surreal” scene that greeted them as areas that were usually bursting with passengers were largely empty aside from the occasional walking wounded and paramedics working on the injured, some of which were using benches as makeshift hospital beds. With a small search team comprised of staff from the BTP, Metropolitan Police and the London Ambulance service walking a few metres behind, Steve, Paul and their dogs entered the tunnel.
“All of the power was turned off,” said Steve. “Everything was in pretty much darkness with only the emergency lighting at the sides of the tunnel. Me and Paul worked our way to about half way down to the train and said that I’d go to the front end and he’d go to the back end of the train.
“Climbing on board was difficult because, you know, there is no platform to use, so I had to wedge the door open, lift the dog onto the train and then clamber up after him wearing the bomb suit. Again, everything was in darkness. We had torches and started working our way towards the front of the train. It was at the front where the bomb went off. It was just devastation all the way through.”
A bad dream
The memories of passing through that train have been etched into the back of Steve’s mind. Thirteen years on and he can still paint a vivid picture of the horrors he saw, details of which are too graphic for publication.
Although he had served in the military for almost five years and with the dog unit since 1992, Steve said it was the worst incident he has ever been called to.
“I can remember walking through shining my torch down into the darkness, it was something like, I don’t know, like out of a horror film.
“This one, because it was so confined and, like I said there was no power on the train so it was dark and you’re working through torch light, it just seemed unreal, like a bad dream.”
Fortunately on this occasion the dog handlers found no secondary devices but the work of the explosive search dog unit allowed supporting colleagues and a search team to safely proceed and begin their sensitive work. Steve would later find out that the train had already been searched but due to disruptions to communications, the information was not relayed.
For Steve, who returned to King’s Cross for an evening shift on that same day, this wasn’t the first time he had to search the station following a major incident. He was also present in the aftermath of the King’s Cross fire.
Meanwhile Paul retired in 2014 and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder – as was Steve – mainly as a result of the incident. He added: “I remember being really calm. I think that it was because we – Leo, me and the rest of the explosive search dog unit – were constantly training and preparing for such an event. I knew exactly what we had to do and Leo just switched on and did everything that I asked of him.”
Courage amid chaos
It goes without saying that Steve, Paul, Buddy and Leo did not act alone. Ian Johnston, who was chief constable of the BTP at the time of the bombings, described the incident as “probably the biggest challenge faced by the police service in post-war Britain” and there were many examples of courage amid the chaos. In total, the BTP lists almost 150 officers, members of staff, train operating company staff and members of the public who were honoured for their efforts following the bombings on its website, this includes BTP’s current chief constable Paul Crowther, who was silver command on the day.
Much like the stories that have surfaced from the terror attacks of 2017, in the country’s darkest hours there are shining lights of courage and professionalism, beacons of inspiration that show humanity’s very best when it’s faced with its absolute worst.
Whether it’s the third, 13th or 30th anniversary of 7/7, let us never forget the 52 lives that were lost, the more than 770 who were left injured and those that went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the capital and the country recovered and work to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.
Read more: Becoming a BTP dog handler