7/7 remembered: Leeds in the global media spotlight

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FOR five long and confused days the speculation raged.

Who were the fanatics that had bombed London? And where were they from?

Then, on the morning of July 12, 2005, the answers started arriving.

And, suddenly, the world’s media switched its attention from the UK’s traumatised capital to Leeds and the rest of West Yorkshire.

Here was a city that was perhaps best known beyond these shores for the exploits of its football team as well as its annual rock festival.

Now Leeds was making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The Washington Post told how scores of police officers had carried out raids in what it described as “an ethnically mixed city of about 700,000 people about 200 miles north of the capital”.

The Times of India, meanwhile, described Leeds as a “fringe” city in the “Muslim and Pakistani-dominant region of West Yorkshire”.

The New York Times did its best to pick out positives among the avalanche of bad news.

Leeds, it said, prided itself on its “ethnic diversity and relative peace”. Lauding the city’s reinvention in the 1990s as a business, retail and tourism trailblazer after the decline of its traditional industries, it went on: “While Leeds was not immune to racial tensions, most residents say the problems were well under control.

“Local people note, for instance, that when race riots erupted in 2001 in nearby Bradford, Leeds remained relatively quiet.”

Understandably, though, the journalists and film crews who descended on West Yorkshire a decade ago were less interested in the county’s back story and more on the men who had brought carnage to London.

The reporters came from America, China, Australia, France, Germany, Spain – the list appeared neverending.

Residents in Lees Holm, the road in the Thornhill Lees area of Dewsbury that had been home to plot ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan, received repeated phone calls from Japanese media, desperate to elicit any snippet of information about his up-to-then seemingly unremarkable life.

Italian journalists normally based in Rome turned up at the Yorkshire Evening Post’s old offices in Wellington Street with the intention of pooling resources with our team.

One man who found himself in the eye of the storm was Geoff Fox, then a journalist with the YEP.

He was the first reporter on the scene after bomber Shehzad Tanweer’s home on Colwyn Road in Beeston was raided and today recalled: “As the day wore on, it began to feel as though the journalists and police were starting to outnumber the residents.

“One of the more unusual aspects to that day was being stood on a street in Beeston giving a 10-minute ­phone interview to ITN’s Alastair Stewart which was broadcast live.

“He asked me to elaborate on some of the details of the raids before I was asked to describe the scene.

“It certainly won’t go down as TV gold but to be able to paint that scene for ITN on a day when there was such a thirst for news was something I’m proud of.”

The invasion of the global press pack added to an almost unreal mood in Leeds that July.

Like the rest of the country, the city had been on red alert in the days immediately following 7/7.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from the area around Leeds bus station on July 10 after the discovery of a suspect package.

Police officers carrying machine guns stood guard in the north concourse of Leeds’s main train station. Armed cops also cut a somewhat incongruous sight in the heart of historic York.

That high-profile presence was ramped up still further following the revelation of West Yorkshire’s unwanted role in the single worst terrorist atrocity on British soil.

Extra police patrols were mounted and Colin Cramphorn, the county’s then chief constable, urged the public to remain calm and reject any kind of extremist response in what he acknowledged was a “difficult and uncertain” situation.

Given the circumstances, it was little surprise that people were on edge. The day after the initial raids, firms including Union Industries in Hunslet raised the alarm when they were sent envelopes in the post containing white powder that turned out to be part of a misguided marketing campaign.

And, on July 14, residents were evacuated from their homes in the Lodge Lane area of Beeston after police set up yet another cordon around a property.

A mediator who had worked in South Africa following the end of apartheid was at one stage called in by Leeds City Council amid concerns over possible tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims.

In the event, the calls for cool heads were heeded and the news crews slowly but surely drifted away, leaving behind only memories of some of the most unsettling and strange days ever witnessed in West Yorkshire.

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