Pastor counsels rescue workers

TRAUMATISED emergency services working in the aftermath of the London bomb blast are being cared for by a team of chaplains – led by a Lutterworth man.

The Rev Liam Johnston (40), of Greenacres, the chief executive of the Railway Mission, is leading ten chaplains to counsel and look after rescue workers dealing with some of the most horrific sights they have ever seen.

Within hours of hearing about the blast, the married father of four was rushed to London by transport police and has spent the last week helping victims and emergency teams come to terms with the devastation.

He said: "There was an afternoon I sat with officers who had been in the search team.

"He said it was carnage down there. They were waist deep in bodies.

"He was physically shaking. This is a man who was involved with the rescue operation after the Paddington disaster, who in the past had just shrugged it off."

Mr Johnston added: "They are a professional specialist police force, but nevertheless, this is horrific – beyond anything anyone has experienced."

The chaplains have worked closely with occupational health workers to make sure emergency teams do not wear themselves out by forgetting to eat, drink and rest in the turmoil.

He said: "It's very easy to forget about the physical needs.

"It's easy to put someone on a cordon, or search and forget they need food and water and washing equipment.

"Somebody's got to do it. When we find something needs doing we can talk to people and get it done."

Mr Johnston said such atrocities shake people's belief in God, but assured them that great comfort could be found in religion at such times.

He said:"One of the officers asked me 'where is God?' and as a pastor I found it a real challenge to answer that question.

"I know it sounds like an answer that reels off the tongue, but I said God was on that train, and on that bus and with us now.

"Where there is mourning,

the Lord says he is going to be there."

Despite seeing the psychological damage suffered by people working in the bloody aftermath of the Tube tunnel blasts to retrieve bodies, he said his faith in human goodness had been fortified by the massive support shown to victims and emergency services.

He said: "One of the floral tributes I read said 'Azerbaijan is not far from London'.

"The world community is smaller than we think.

"We were all affected by 9/11 and Madrid, and we're all affected by this."

Mr Johnston returned to his wife Rita and four children yesterday (Wednesday) but was planning to head back to the capital after a day or two.

He said: "They haven't seen too much of me lately, but I'll be back again. Certainly for the next three or four days there will be a strong chaplaincy presence.

"However the after-effects of this will roll on for months, if not years.

"The last thing we want is for people to bottle it up inside and suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Mr Johnston, who has counselled railway workers for six years since leaving theological college, praised the rail industry for getting the trains running so soon after the devastation.

He said: "I believe as a counsellor I know that anyone going through immense trauma needs to return back to normality as quickly as possible.

"This nation went through an horrific time of trauma and the rail industry responded by getting us back to normality as quickly as possible."