Colin Grainger

How joy became tragedy – but our community became a force for good

Ten years ago – but it seems like yesterday.

Twenty-four hours after winning the chance to showcase Newham to the world we all came shuddering back down to earth.

Joy became tragedy as we forgot the success of winning the staging of the Olympic Games in our community as bombs ripped through East London and other parts of the capital.

Before the journalistic realisation that here was a major piece of history unfolding before our eyes, came the natural reaction of most. Frantic phone calls were made to check your loved ones were ok. My daughter and a close friend both worked near Aldgate and could have even been on the train that was bombed. But contact and a few tears confirmed their safety.

Then the Newham Recorder newsteam I had did what it always did – got on with the job.

We already had a major story on our hands reporting the Olympic success from 24 hours earlier. This went on. The Thursday July 7 bombing took over our lives of course as there were survivor, near-miss and sadly victim stories to pursue. Other bombings followed the Aldgate tragedy.

But there was also a showcase event, the Newham Town Show over the coming weekend,  a major awards ceremony, 60 years on VE and VJ celebrations…and the small matter of two murders to be covered.

It was 24-hour working for six days to produce the 144-page paper that hit the streets re-shaping much of what had already been planned.

Many times in my 40 years at the Recorder – the last 15 as Editor – ­I have been immensely proud to have lived and worked in Newham. And this was one of them.

The community was united in respect for those who were killed or injured.

This was our multi-cultural community of so many faiths and creeds coming together to have the determination to comfort the bereaved, give help to those who had suffered and get on with our daily lives to that the terrorists will never win.

There were moments of silence on the Town Hall steps, and at the Town Show.

And our community’s powerful mix became a force for good for the second time in six months, the first being the tsunami tragedy.

It was made more poignant for the Newham community, because Plaistow’s Shahara Islam lost her young life in the Tavistock Square bus bombing.

Shahara Islam

* Shahara

Shahara Islam was a modern Muslim, a young woman who loved her handbag and fashionable clothes while at the same time respecting her family’s wishes that she sometimes wore traditional clothes at home. She would go shopping in the West End but would always be seen at the mosque for Friday prayers. Shahara, 20, was a second-generation Bengali who made her family so proud.

On that fateful Thursday, her usual hour-long tube journey – which took her from the family home in Plaistow, up to Islington’s Angel tube station – was interrupted. Getting off the Tube, she got on the No 30 bus and it was there that her path crossed that of Hasib Hussain, the youngest suicide bomber.

One of the survivors of the bus attack told how her friend, Shahara persuaded her to get on the packed Number 30, only to be killed minutes later in the blast. Emma Plunkett also revealed that Shahara sat directly across the bus aisle from suicide bomber Hasib Hussain. She told the inquest that she had suggested to Shahara that they wait until the queues for buses at Euston station had died down.

But Ms Islam, insisted they got on…and found herself sitting next to suicide bomber Hasib Hussain. She was one of 13 people killed when he detonated his device. His  bomb was the fourth to go off on July 7 2005. Four suicide attackers killed 52 people on three London Underground trains and the bus.

A statement from her family at the time paid tribute to a woman who had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is as important today as it was eight years ago.

It read: “Today our dear daughter, cause of our joy and light of our eyes – our Shahara is returning to her Lord – an innocent and blood-stained martyr. She was an East Ender, a Londoner and British, but above all, a true Muslim and proud to be so.

“She was a simple girl, from a simple family who led a simple life. Unfortunately she was at the wrong place at the wrong time on that unfortunate day.

“The flame of her life has been cruelly extinguished from this beautiful young woman in her prime, who had the whole world ahead of her.”

Just as wartime communities shared in the grief of those who lost loved ones in the Blitz and on battlefields, so did our borough’s ten years ago – united against terrorism.

Mayor Sir Robin Wales made a powerful assertion and said Newham would move on and celebrate the Olympic success and the cultural diversity that impressed the International Olympics Committee.

“We can get on with living the dream and will not be stopped.”

He was right and we did.  We united against evil and I know our paper reflected that feeling and I am proud of what we achieved…as a paper and as a community then and since.

Shahara

* The small plaque in Tavistock Square

 

Now, a decade on seems the right time to talk about permanent memorials for those who lost their lives in Tavistock Square. The small plaque outside the British Medical Association’s headquarters is a touching reminder of that fateful day.

But with the recent atrocity in Tunisia there have been calls for a permanent memorial to the British victims there. A fine idea. But let us also build something to remember those who died in London ten years ago today.

London will never forget those who perished and suffered that day.

 

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This article was written on 06 Jul 2015, and is filed under 7/7 bombings, Newham, Newham Recorder, Shahara Islam, Tavistock Square.

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