Written at the time by Scotland NEC member Jane Carolan at UNISON HQ close by three of the bombings on 7 July 2005, we publish again as a 7/7 tribute.
Thursday 7th July started as another UNISON day. The weather had turned from summer to dreich overnight and few of us in London on union business were prepared for it. I was chairing the Service Group Liaison Committee and knew that it was going to be an all day affair. Colleagues from Scotland were attending that, and others were in London for the Women's Committee and for the Energy executive. There was the usual round of greetings, as we all appeared in the hotel that morning for breakfast and the gossip about what was going on in the union and how we had survived Conference.
Euston Road was as busy as usual with nose to tail traffic at nine when I crossed the road to Mabledon. As I went up in the lift a friend commented that the underground at King's Cross-was chaotic as there had been a power surge and the trains were going off. It was a bit of a regular occurrence and meant that some committee members might be late but not a cause for concern. Then someone else said that the trains were also halted and a sense that it wasn't just the usual London travel problems started to emerge.
Nothing concrete was mentioned at that stage but a sense of unease was emerging. The TV news was continuing as normal so we tried the Internet. The BBC site was reporting traffic nightmares, as several underground and rail stations were closed or closing. There was no sense of danger, just a feeling that the working day would be disrupted. I decided to make a few phone calls and yes, that if I was doing that I might as well have a fag at the same time.
Police sirens were much in evidence from the Mabledon Place stairs but I just got on with the work I had to do. It was while I was there that there was an unmistakeable BOOM. I ignored it and carried on talking but conversation quickly became impossible. The noise from police cars, ambulances, fire engines and police cars was too much, as they rushed through the Euston traffic.
We went back to the TV. Shortly after there was an announcement that all rail and underground traffic was closed and that a bus had been involved in an accident in Upper Woburn place, a few hundred yards away. A sense that something was happening was growing and while no one would have admitted it, a sense that we were all frightened. It was impossible to ask people to concentrate so meetings were cancelled and everyone asked to stay in the building. Members congregated around the TV waiting for what was going to happen next, fearful of what it would be. The smokers returned to the steps.
By now Euston Rd was blocked off and only emergency vehicles were getting through. There was no chattering, just a constant vigil, watching what was obviously a major incident unfold. The rumours started. One bus had been bombed. We guessed Woburn Place. Then someone said five buses. Inside the building managers were asked to account for all members of staff expected in that day and lay members counted up. A staff member who had been on the bus arrived at work, and by now we knew, lucky to be alive as the first pictures of the atrocity appeared on TV. There was no panic, no disarray, just foreboding about what was happening on our doorstep.
We could only wait. No mobile contact was possible, so there were queues for phones, as everyone wanted to get the message out to relatives and friends that they were ok and in a safe place. In Glasgow the message that I was ok was followed by an enquiry about why would I not be? The scale of the tragedy on our doorstep was not yet appreciated by those at work in other parts of the country nor at that time, even by us.
Five staff members were reported as not being at work and frantic attempts were being made to find out where they were, hampered by the reliance on mobile technology. We thought by then that the underground incidents were also bombs and the media was confirming that, though precisely where or how was a matter of dispute. Two members of staff had been in Russell Square at the time of the blast but were leaving when the bomb went off. The police cordon round central London was confirmed.
Our best information about what to do came directly from communication from the police who kept officers up to date on a need to know basis as neither the internet nor the TV was reliable. What was passed on to officers was passed on to us, as Dave Prentis arranged regular briefings in the Conference chamber for all lay members.
We watched and waited, the sound of sirens the constant accompaniment. The complete lack of other traffic and the closure of all businesses on one of London's busiest streets was astounding. By now we knew that we were at the heart of a terrorist attack but could do nothing. Two young women appeared in our building, survivors from the King's Cross bomb, totally confused and dazed and thankfully not badly injured, but with the stains of fellow less fortunate passengers on their clothing.
Emergency plans were drawn up .All London traffic was at a standstill, and the chances of getting us home seemed remote. Hotels were not taking bookings. It seemed that Mabledon Place might be a temporary hotel for us and staff who could not get home. Everyone accepted it. Everyone was stoical and calm and no one wanted to fuss. Some of us were shaking. Sharing a joke on the front steps was followed by a guilty feeling that we shouldn't.
Time passed slowly and the nature of the events became more apparent. Three underground blasts and one in a bus round the corner from the office. But our staff were accounted for, and all the lay members due in Mabledon that day. Someone suggested going to give blood but we were still caught in the cordon. Still the sirens screamed.
Slowly some normality returned. People appeared on the streets as police indicated that it was ok to start what for some was the long walk home. There was no panic, no disarray. Rooms were found for those who needed them, and we quietly made our way there, as mobile phones suddenly went mental, receiving calls from friends and colleagues who knew we were in London and needed reassurance. (and thanks to all those who did) But the usual banter and joking was replaced by a sense of relief that we were all right but that we were surrounded by slaughter.
It started as our usual Thursday. It ended in tragedy. We went home, wearily and warily on Friday. All of us who were there have nothing but gratitude for Dave Prentis and the Mabledon staff. We would all echo the comments made by Dave about the magnificent efforts of public service workers.
I consider myself a Glaswegian. But at the moment I feel that I'm a little bit of a Londoner as well, and want to stand with them in solidarity against this barbarity.