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London Eyes: CCTV Captures Images of London Bombers

Sep 01, 20053 mins
Physical Security

Within days of the July 7 bombings in London that killed 56 people, images of the perpetrators flew around the world.

Within days of the July 7 bombings in London that killed 56 people, images of the perpetrators flew around the world. The four men identified by forensic evidence as having carried bomb-laden backpacks were captured on closed-circuit television at King’s Cross station shortly before 8:30 on the morning of the attacks. They had traveled to London on

a train from Luton, where CCTV footage of them was also quickly located. This was the image the world saw.

Britons believe no other capital city is as intensively photographed as London. The average Londoner can expect to be

caught on surveillance video hundreds of times daily. After the bombings, investigators reviewed well over 6,000 CCTV tapes.

Britons also have grown accustomed to seeing CCTV footage of suspectsand victimsin high-profile crimes.

From child abductions to murder, CCTV, in the public’s eyes, has become the police’s first port of call and a high-tech crime-fighting tool.

The reality is more prosaic. Police receive no special training in analyzing CCTV footage, says Brian Adamson, a technical

support officer with the Haringey Borough police, part of London’s Metropolitan Police. Officers learn on the job. Although the force has a good knowledge of the locations and capabilities of the CCTV cameras at major public transit points, and are well-practiced at downloading digital imagery, the process relies on the cooperation of the transit authorities and

organizations that own the cameras involved, Adamson says.

Privately owned CCTV cameras pose another challenge. A central database of these cameras is based solely on police on

the beat spotting new cameras and updating the force’s records, Adamson says. When a crime takes place, he adds, officers have to walk the route involved, identifying cameras and hoping to gather evidence.

British police encourage shopkeepers and other CCTV camera owners to change their tapes and make sure that the cameras work. “Time and again, there are instances of police officers needing images, only to find out that there wasn’t

a recording or that the images were unusable,” says former detective Simon Janes, a 22-year Scotland Yard veteran who is international operations director for computer forensics company Ibas Holding. It turned out the CCTV camera on the bus that exploded in Tavistock Square on July 7 wasn’t operable, delaying identification of the bomber responsible.

Police issued more CCTV images after a second group of men attempted and failed to set off four bombs in the London transport

system on July 21. By July’s end, authorities in London and Rome had arrested all four suspects plus others believed

to have helped them.

The authorities have sought to reassure the public that no effort would be spared to prevent further atrocities. For that to happen, however, London needs to move from after-the-event analysis to before-the-event anticipation, says Neil Fisher,

director of security solutions at British defense contractor QinetiQ. The technology exists. Real-time video analysis is in use at New Jersey Transit’s Secaucus Junction station (see “The Secaucus Model,”). Is it in London’s future?

Malcolm Wheatley