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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 11:13 GMT
'Priority one'
By Stephen Barrett
Assistant Producer, BBC

Gill Hicks
Gill Hicks lay in an Underground train carriage with her lower legs almost blown off when two police officers arrived and, with a tap on her shoulder, she heard the words "Priority one". Months after the bomb attacks in London, the trio were reunited.

In the autumn sunshine, PC Steve Bryan and PC Aaron Debnam are waiting nervously in the landscaped gardens of Richmond Town Hall.

When it's time, the two British Transport Police officers stub out their cigarettes, take a quick glance at each other and set off for the main entrance. Inside is the woman they thought had died three months earlier in the London bomb attacks.

The events on 7 July which shook London had brought the three people together. Gill Hicks, a 37-year-old native Australian, had lived in the capital for 12 years and was late for work at the Design Council.

Fated train

"I got on the train and got to King's Cross and the next Piccadilly Line train came and there was a great guy that pushed in front of me and got on that train, of course," she says.

"We exchanged a couple of words, and I was therefore left to board the next train, which was as we now know, the fated train."

Less than a minute later, Germaine Lindsey detonated his explosive laden rucksack close to where Gill had been standing.

My feet were both almost surgically severed
Gill Hicks

"The whole environment changed and suddenly it felt like I was falling in black thick liquid or tar and my immediate sensation or thought was that I was having a heart attack and that I was dying in the Tube.

"I opened my eyes and this blackness that I thought was my own blackness was actually everywhere.

"There was an emergency light and it was from that emergency light that I was able to see what had happened and the extent of my injuries.

"I felt very removed from myself but very aware that I was in quite serious trouble because my feet were both almost surgically severed, but still connected to what remained of the lower part of my legs."

While Gill lay injured on the wrecked carriage, the confusion above ground meant that word was only just beginning to filter out to the emergency services that something serious had happened.

But as the calls on their police radios became more alarming, PC Bryan and PC Debnam found themselves on the way to Russell Square station in response to reports of lots of walking wounded at the station.

PC Bryan, having commandeered a police van, was first to arrive.

Gill Hicks with PC Steve Bryan (R) and PC Aaron Debnam
Gill Hicks is reunited with PC Steve Bryan (R) and PC Aaron Debnam
"We pulled up at the end of the road and we all just jumped out of the van," he says. "I was first out and I just sprinted down towards the station.

"As soon as I got into the booking hall there were five or six people that had managed to get up into the booking hall that looked like they had been involved in an explosion.

"Their clothes were shredded. They all had blackened faces, hair standing on end and none of them knew that they had been involved in an explosion. A few people thought they had been electrocuted."

Damage

PC Debnam and his colleagues had already been to Liverpool Street station but had been told to get to Edgware Road station when the call came in from Russell Square.

The smoke was getting thicker the further you got down there and it was making things difficult to breathe
PC Aaron Debnam
The crippled train had come to a halt between King's Cross and Russell Square stations in one of the deepest tunnels on the Underground system.

The narrow tunnel had confined the blast and caused the most serious damage of any of the explosions. The two officers, joined by more colleagues and paramedics from the London Ambulance Service, set off down the smoke-filled tunnel.

There was hardly any light so visibility was about 15 yards, and the smoke made it difficult to breathe. It took about 10 minutes to get to the train.

Horror film

As bad as the tunnel was, nothing could have prepared them for what they would see and have to do once they reached the damaged carriage.

PC Bryan recalls there was blood on the floor and all round the carriage, in a scene reminiscent of a horror film.

Tube explosion
Fifty-two people were killed in the London bomb attacks
PC Debnam says: "The ceiling was hanging down, all the windows and doors were blown out and it was like the train was moulded to the tunnel.

"The dead were piled on top of each other. We did not know who was dead and who was injured and it was eerily quiet down there, there was no noise whatsoever."

For Gill the wait for help had been almost unbearable.

"I don't know how long I waited but then I did see a torch, and I did see someone coming towards me and all I remember were, what I now think are the two best words in the English language, which are "priority" and "one", and a hand on my shoulder saying "priority one, it is ok," and after that, it is bits and pieces that I can remember."

Tears

After the paramedics had finished stabilising Gill's injuries, the officers began the difficult task of getting her back down the tunnel.

"It was probably the hardest I have ever worked in my life," says PC Debnam.

"The heat and smoke down there made things really, really difficult. I had part of the stretcher in my hand and I was holding her hand as well as trying to keep her conscious.

"When the grip on my hands sort of loosened we would stop and try and bring her round. I would look for her pulse, and if there was one, try and bring her into consciousness, but she was slipping in and out all the time."

After handing Gill over to the triage team at street level, the officers went back down the tunnel to help others and were later told she had died. In fact, she had survived, although she lost her lower legs.

Three months later, when they were reunited in Richmond, the emotion was overwhelming.

The three of them wept.

Stephen Barrett narrated 7/7: The Day The Bombs Came, which was broadcast on Wednesday, 16 November 2005 on BBC One at 2100 GMT.

It was followed on BBC Three at 2235 GMT by 7/7: Citizen Journalists, the story of how those caught up in the bombings became the eyes and ears of the media.


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