- The chaos of the initial response to the London Bridge attacks saw key information not passsed on by paramedics to police
- Paramedics were unable to get to victims in a courtyard but did not get that message through to the cops trying to keep the casualties alive
- Medics eventually flouted the rules that prohibit them going into areas where an active terrorist could be but that was three hours after the attackers had been shot dead
A senior London Ambulance director has admitted it “took too long” to get paramedics to the victims of the London Bridge terror attacks.
Operational director of the London Ambulance Service Trust, Paul Woodrow, told the coroner’s inquest into the terror attacks that it “took too long” to get paramedics into the courtyard.
“The issue we had on that night was we were overflowing with information which was conflicting,” he explained.
The inquest heard confusion and a “breakdown in communication” between emergency services meant speacialist paramedics were delayed.
Five of the eight people who died in the attack were in a courtyard below street level where paramedics could not go for fear marauding attackers were still at large.
The inquest heard at least two London Ambulance Service paramedics knew there were wounded people in the courtyard and one shouted down to police officers and members of the public trying to keep the wounded alive that paramedics would be with them soon.
But before the medical staff could be dispatched, emergency service commanders at the scene activated specific protocols to deal with a “marauding terrorist” attack as underway, called Operation Plato.
The paramedics were pulled back to “rendezvous points”, leaving the police and members of the public unaware they were in a “hot zone” where paramedics were unable to get to them so would have to move from their position to find help themselves.
Paramedics eventually did enter the courtyard area at around 1am, around three hours after the major incident had been declared and after they defied the policy and volunteered to enter the zone.
Paul Woodrow told the coroner the trust was in the process of changing policies to allow duty managers who arrive at the scene of a major incident to decide whether to commit specialist teams, and not just specially trained “Plato” officers who are in charge of the on-the-ground response to a marauding terrorist attack.
He also said it is “definitely worth exploring” collocating LAS personnel with London Fire Brigade officers and the Metropolitan Police operations teams during major incidents. This will help each service understand where the other’s people and vehicles are, he explained.
Gareth Patterson QC, representing the families of some of the victims, pointed to the failure of LAS staff to communicate to police in the courtyard that paramedics could not get to them. He asked if there were inadequate policies governing the LAS response to major incidents.
Mr Woodrow denied this was a failure of policy, saying the service was responding to a “very dynamic” situation.
“I’ve not experienced an incident of this magnitude and dynamic nature,” he said. “But my experience of the management of major incidents is it does take time for command structures to be put in place.”
The LAS was dealing with an unusually busy night before the attacks happened and during the early stages of the attack it received over 130 calls from the public.
“This is a problem that we as a service are struggling with, when you get high volumes of [Computer Aided Dispatches] with lots of information which is conflicting,” he said.
The LAS does not have the resources to keep a large number of staff ready to assess such a high volume of calls at a moment’s notice, he added.