THELMA Stober can still remember the sounds of screaming passengers and the smell of burning metal as she lay on the train track in shock, after being caught up in the 7/7 terror attack.
The then 37-year-old lawyer had been in a jubilant mood as she set off for work earlier that morning after her team at the Mayor of London’s office celebrated their successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics.
But at 8.47am, while travelling on the Circle Line, she was caught in the blast of a suicide bomb – one of four that exploded across London on July 7, 2005, killing a total of 56 people.
“My life 15 years ago was hectic, exciting, happy,” she tells The Sun. “I was at the height of my career and when we won the Olympic bid I literally jumped for joy. It was the last time I jumped.”
The high-flying lawyer, originally from Sierra Leone, lost her leg in the 7/7 bombing and had to learn to walk again.
Now, in an emotional interview 15 years on from the devastating terrorist attack, Thelma, now 52, reflects on the fateful journey that changed her life forever.
She tells Sun Online: “This morning, I went for a walk along the canal and I was saying to myself, ‘15 years ago today was the last day I had my left foot and I was able to jump, I was able to run.’
“On that day, my life was changed significantly, forever, along with hundreds of others.”
On any other day, Thelma would not have been on the tube when the suicide bomb strapped to 22-year-old Shehzad Tanweer detonated next to her.
After two years of working round the clock on the Olympic bid, she had promised to take her five-year-old son Lewis to school, meaning she got a much later train.
After boarding the tube at Moorgate, Thelma texted her PA to tell her she was on her way to work. Seconds later, an explosion ripped through the carriage.
The next thing Thelma remembers is waking up on the train tracks, half under a train. She had been blown out of the train by the blast and had one of the detached doors embedded in her leg.
“I could see blood but I had no pain whatsoever, “she recalls.
“I thought there had been a terrible train crash, caused by my text.
“There was smoke everywhere and all I could hear was people screaming but I could see bodies lying on the track and arms and legs hanging out of the window.
“I thought rather than lying there I should get up and seek help. ”
It was only after the initial moments of shock that Thelma realised there was a body right next to her.
“There was a man lying, lifeless, next to me with his hand on my head.
“I moved his hand and held it for a while. I didn’t know if he was dead or alive.”
The terrified mum then tried to wriggle out and search for help.
She says: “I remember shouting, ‘Help me, help me. I don’t want to die.’”
Officials told her to lie down as standing might exacerbate any internal injuries she had.
“They lay me back down on the tracks and a gentleman called Colin Pettit came to sit next to me and he used his jacket to cover me because my clothes had been burned off,” Thelma says.
“My throat was dry and I felt cold. I was slipping in and out of consciousness.”
When the paramedics arrived, Thelma was taken to the Royal London Hospital where she was put into a coma as doctors battled to save her life.
When she woke two weeks later, the consultant had to break the news that they had amputated her left foot the day she was admitted.
“I cried… I felt like my world had come to an end. I thought of all the things I couldn’t with my son, who was five at the time.”
Lying in her hospital bed, in early August, Thelma switched on the TV and was shocked to hear the explosion described as a terrorist attack for the first time.
The family liaison officer then explained the extent of the deaths and injuries suffered in the four terrorist attacks.
The British bombers – Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Germaine Lindsay, 19 and 18-year-old Hasib Hussain – were radicalised by Islamic extremists and set off three bombs on the crowded London underground at the height of the rush hour, before detonating a fourth on the bus in Tavistock Square.
The devices killed all four bombers and 52 others, leaving more than 700 injured, making it Britain’s deadliest terrorist incident since the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 near Lockerbie, Scotland,
“It was shocking. It was awful,” she says. “These were innocent people from all parts of the world, going about their business, trying to make a difference in society by going to work.
“They had nothing to do with whatever it was that the bombers were fighting about. Lives were shortened. Families lost their loved ones. It was tragic that 52 innocent people lost their lives.”
One of those 52 was the man whose hand Thelma held immediately after the explosion.
“I suffered a lot of guilt because I thought that in my quest to save myself I didn’t really pay enough attention to him.
“That was a guilt I suffered for many years until we had the inquest, in 2012, and I spoke about it.
“A couple of days later, I got a letter from his parents saying they were glad I was next to him and that I held his hand for a few minutes.
“It was the first time they had heard what had happened from somebody who had been close to him and they said there was nothing I could do because the medical evidence showed that he died instantaneously.
“That gave me some comfort, but I still live with the guilt that he was next to me. I survived and he died.”
As her long road to recovery began, Thelma was about to face a new battle – over the colour of her prosthetic limb.
At the time the NHS offered prosthetics in limited tones – white, cream, black or dark brown “like tights” – and Thelma felt passionately that hers should match her skin tone.
“I wasn’t prepared to walk down the street with two different colour feet and I felt angry.
“I was determined to get on with my life as best as I could, and I didn’t want to allow the bombers or groups behind them to achieve their objective.
“As a survivor, I wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with governments and other organisations to fight against terrorism.
“But having to use a limb that didn’t match my skin tone felt like another form of punishment.
“I wanted to be able to tell people what happened to me if I chose to. I didn’t want people to be looking at me in the street and wondering why I’ve got two different limbs.”
Using her legal training and the support of her employers, she successfully battled to get funding for a private limb.
In recent years Thelma, who now works for the Local Government Agency, has been an advocate for all victims of war, terrorism and disasters, advising on memorials for casualties of terrorist attacks in Nice and Boston, and representing victims at the United Nations.
She was recently appointed to lead the Grenfell Memorial Commission, to help the community decide on a fitting tribute to the 73 people who died in the fire.
While she devotes her life to helping others, the 15th anniversary of the bombings has once more unearthed the deep mental scars left by the events of 7/7.
“I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and flashbacks,” she says. “I suffer nightmares, panic attacks and anxiety and it gets worse coming up to the anniversary.
“If I see an ambulance the siren brings back all the memories of the sirens on that day. If I see the tube on TV, the memory floods back and it’s very painful. I think of those who lost their lives. I think of their families. It’s so unfair.
Despite first getting back on a tube in 2011, she still finds it difficult to use the underground.
“On every anniversary, I try to see if I could make that same journey, but it’s very difficult,” she says.
“Two weeks ago, we went to the memorial to lay flowers and it was a quiet time so I decided to stop at Euston on the way home, to see if I could make a journey. I got to the station and I was pinned to the ground. I couldn’t lift my foot to get onto the escalator to get down to the underground and I had a panic attack, and fell to the floor.”
The victims and bereaved families usually mark the anniversary by meeting at the four bombing sites at 8.47am and 8.50am – the times of the explosions – before congregating at the memorial in Hyde Park and going for lunch.
This year, because of the Covid-19 restrictions, they have changed their plans and have produced a memorial film, including speeches from HRH the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.
At 12pm they will gather in an online meeting room to watch the film, in what will be an emotional event for all.
Amazingly, as a Christian, she says she has forgiven the four bombers.
“My only sadness, in a sense is that they died, because I would like to sit in front of them to try and understand why human beings born and bred in the United Kingdom would do such a horrible thing to people.”