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July 7 ten years on: Vicki Hillyard remembers her experience

Jonny Ensall

On July 7, 2005, London was hit by four suicide bombs: three on the Underground and one on a bus. Fifty-two people were killed, and 700 more were injured.

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the bombings, we're publishing first-hand accounts from people who were profoundly involved.

Vicki Hillyard was in the bomber’s carriage on the Piccadilly line train travelling between King’s Cross and Russell Square

‘I was 29 at the time, living in Crouch End and commuting to Holborn where I worked for a publishing house. I was racing to work that day, in fact, because I was on a massive deadline. In the end, I never went back again.

‘There were problems on the Victoria line, so everybody was crowded on to the Piccadilly. I was jammed into the corner by the door, smelling somebody’s armpit. At King’s Cross I could see a seat available, and nobody was taking it – I couldn’t understand why. I decided to push through, and thank God I did, because I had been standing just a metre away from the bomber. The bomb went off 20 seconds later.

‘I had no sense of what it was, but I knew something really bad had happened – obviously. People were flung against windows, poles were bent, windows smashed. I could see, but was choosing not to see. It was surreal, being sat there in a carriage full of smoke and screaming people and wondering: Am I going to get out of here, because soon I won’t be able to breathe?

‘Once the TfL staff thought it was safe enough for us to get on to the tracks they led us out through the driver’s cab. I didn’t know what I was stepping on. There were hardly any taxis because everyone was trying to get out of London. I actually had an argument with someone who tried to steal my cab, with me black all over and wrapped in a silver blanket. 

‘In the months after I couldn’t really travel, I had such serious post-traumatic stress. I did eventually get down to a centre at St Bart’s Hospital for therapy. They put me back on the tube – travelling between two stops, over and over again, until it became normalised.

‘It just shattered everything – my whole sense of identity. That’s perhaps why I ended up living on a houseboat, because it’s fun and very beautiful. I’m trying to maximise what I get out of life so I’m not at the mercy of somebody else. I feel like I was basically the victim of a political act. You’re up against an ideology that you can’t fathom or argue with. I can get very angry with the one particular person on my train who decided to blow it up, and affected mine and hundreds of other lives for ever. But I find it hard to articulate how I feel about him. I think he’s an idiot, and I’ll never understand how a human being can do that.

‘I know Muslim people had a raw deal after the bombings. But people are incredibly open-minded and permissive in London, and now they don’t walk around fearing a terrorist attack. At the same time, I am much more cynical about the British mindset of not talking about things. It’s a load of nonsense; it does not help. [The bombings] feel quite forgotten now. 

‘My story is about my relationship with London. I do love the city. It’s a trust thing – if someone’s hurt you that badly, you ask: Am I really supposed to be here? But I’ve reached a point now where I’m at peace with it.’

Image: Rob Greig

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