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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 13:59 GMT
Why Clarke rejected 7 July inquiry
Analysis
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

Less than three months ago, Home Secretary Charles Clarke was hinting at the possibility of a public inquiry into the 7 July London bombings.

Warren Street station
Many questions remain about the London bombings

The government's own Muslim task force, set up in the wake of the attacks, had demanded nothing less.

Among other things, the panel wanted to better understand the role the Iraq war had played in motivating the four men who carried out the suicide attack - and what could be done to prevent future outrages.

Opposition MPs, meanwhile, were asking why the threat level had been lowered just weeks before the bombers struck - and why those already suspected had not been kept under proper surveillance.

The relatives of the victims - denied the "closure" offered by a criminal trial - also had questions.

Time-consuming

They were angry that they had to piece together their knowledge of what happened to their loved ones from media reports - and that no one in authority has had to fully account for their actions in failing to prevent the attack.

There is no question of a cover-up of any kind
Charles Clarke, home secretary

"Of course there will be an inquiry," Mr Clarke told them in September.

"There is no question about that. The issue is the nature of the inquiry. We have not ruled out a public inquiry. We are ready to look at it but I want to consult with colleagues in Parliament before we decide what to do in that area."

That consultation is apparently now at an end and Mr Clarke has said there will be no inquiry - public or otherwise.

Instead, there will be a narrative account of 7 July written by a senior civil servant, rather than the independent figure that would have headed a public inquiry.

The decision has sparked anger from Muslim groups and opposition MPs and relatives of the victims and has led to accusations of a government cover-up.

Mr Clarke denies such charges, arguing an inquiry would be a time-consuming diversion from the real task of preventing future attacks.

'Active investigation'

He has also said he does not want to jeopardise ongoing police investigations into possible associates of the bombers and the question of whether they acted alone.

"We are involved in a murder investigation. That's a very active investigation," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Secondly, we are looking at potential future threats which, as the prime minister and [Metropolitan police chief] Sir Ian Blair have already indicated there have been successful efforts to prevent a future attacks and that's a very important thing not to be distracted from.

"Thirdly, the time factor. I have always been a sceptic, and I said this at the time to the people who first raised it, of the length of time these inquiries do actually take and the distraction which they offer."

These points were echoed by Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Commons. He told MPs at question time it would be an unnecessary drain on police and security service resources.

Mr Blair said it was already known "essentially" what happened on 7 July and there would be up to five Commons select committee inquiries - and that the written narrative would include all the evidence the government had.

Mr Clarke says he dealt with many of the questions surrounding the attacks when he gave evidence to the Commons home affairs committee in September.

Although, he concedes, the best explanation for how the attack was allowed to happen is that the security services were simply not aware of the four suicide bombers.

Intelligence failure

They were similarly unaware of the plans of the four would-be suicide bombers who launched failed attacks on 21 July, argues Mr Clarke, saying those officials concerned were "acutely aware" of this failure.

"We are all acutely aware of it, but that is the reality of the situation," he argues.

In any area of investigation, the intelligence service, "know only a part of the full story and the challenge they have is to know more of the full story," he adds.

But this does not answer what for many is the key question arising from the attacks.

The government has admitted that one of the bombers, the alleged ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan, was not unknown to the security services and had in fact appeared "on the fringes," as Mr Clarke puts it, of an investigation into an earlier plot.

'No cover-up'

The foiled attack is thought to have involved the use of a vehicle full of explosives in central London.

Mr Clarke admits this apparent intelligence failure is an "issue".

But is it an issue that is likely to be addressed by the "narrative" account of the events leading up to 7 July, ordered by Mr Clarke?

The fact that the narrative will be written by a senior civil servant, rather than an independent figure, will lead to accusations that the government has something to hide.

There is also the question of the role the war in Iraq played in recruiting and motivating the bombers.

"There is no question of a cover-up of any kind," Mr Clarke assured Today listeners.

"As far as allegations about Iraq or foreign policy issues or motivations of the individuals concerned, those are being made the whole time, as we speak, by a whole range of different people, for a range of different motives and people are, of course, entitled to make those assertions."

Far from closing down questions about 7 July by ruling out a public inquiry, the home secretary may find they have only just begun.




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Hear from some of the victims' families



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