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London Bridge inquest: Family of Poplar banker waited days before learning of his death

PUBLISHED: 15:37 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:37 25 June 2019

Ignacio Echeverria. Picture: Met Police

Ignacio Echeverria. Picture: Met Police

Met Police

Families of two of the London Bridge attack victims had to wait for several days to learn the fate of their loved ones after their identification documents were sent to an exhibit store, an inquest has heard.

The families of Spanish banker Ignacio Echeverria, 39, who lived in Poplar and French chef Sebastien Belanger, 36, questioned why it took more than three days to be told they had been killed.

Eight people were killed and 48 injured when terrorists Khuram Butt, 27, Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, drove a van at pedestrians on London Bridge on June 3, 2017.

The three managed to stab a number of visitors to nearby Borough Market before they were shot dead by counter-terror police.

Today (Tuesday), Acting Sergeant Zac Idun, family liaison co-ordinator with the Met's Counter Terror Command, said Mr Echeverria's wallet and phone were found close to his body.

"Mr Echeverria's wallet and phone were picked up by the officer who gave him first aid - the property seemed to have fallen out of his clothing and on to the floor," Mr Idun said.

"The officer correctly seized the property and made it secure and made sure that it didn't go missing, and the wallet and phone were moved to an exhibit store."

The Old Bailey heard that, normally, identifying documents would be left with the body, but as they had fallen out of Mr Echeverria's clothing the officer had acted according to protocol.

It meant there was a delay in the information about Mr Echeverria's identity being passed to the family liaison team, and his death was not confirmed to his family until June 7.

"It's something I apologised for on behalf of the Met Police - it is always our intention to keep families apprised of as much information as possible," Mr Idun said.

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A similar situation arose in the case of Mr Belanger when he became separated from his rucksack.

There was nothing found on his body except a shopping receipt, with only the last four digits of his card on it, while his rucksack went to an exhibit store.

His family were not told until June 6 to prepare themselves for the worst.

Mr Idun explained the Met has a process for identifying victims based on lessons from the Marchioness disaster - a collision between two vessels on the Thames in 1989 in which 51 people died.

The force's primary identification strategy relies on DNA, dental records and fingerprints, while its secondary identifiers include ID documents and distinguishing visual features such as tattoos.

Photos are rarely used for identification purposes because the injuries suffered by disaster victims often render them unrecognisable.

Mr Idun said: "If the property (identity documents) had been there we would have been more than happy to tell the families that information.

"I think as an organisation we are always looking through and reviewing our processes to see where we could have done things better."

He added: "I can't, hand on heart, say that we couldn't have gone and told the family something earlier, but I can say we were acting in the best interests of the family at the time."

Although there was a delay in the two men being identified, the court heard that the Met had been in regular contact with the families since they reported them missing.

Xavier Thomas, 45, Christine Archibald, 30, Sara Zelenak, 21, James McMullan, 32, Kirsty Boden, 28, Alexandre Pigeard, 26, were also killed in the attack.

The inquest continues.

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