JULY 7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay was suspected of a gun crime just weeks before the atrocity, it emerged last night.
But an inquest into the 52 victims of the bombings heard police failed to chase up their “best lead” after the suspected armed robbery.
And that was a hunt which may have led them to one of the July 7 bombers weeks before the bombings, the inquest heard.
He could have been locked up for firearms offences instead of being free to turn into a mass killer.
Inquiries were “left outstanding” after former Rawthorpe High School student Jermaine Lindsay was linked to an alleged gun crime in May 2005.
Though police were able to identify the 19-year-old as the owner of a red Fiat Brava spotted leaving the scene, this information was never fully followed up.
Officers launched an investigation named Operation Bugle after a man dialled 999 to say there was a gunman in his flat on May 27, 2005 – five weeks before the terror attacks on London.
Three women and a child were later seen fleeing from the property “in fear” while three men – wearing balaclavas and gloves – were spotted getting into the Fiat Brava.
When armed officers arrived later that evening, neither the owner of the Luton flat nor the gunman were there.
Attempts to identify the gang of men – two black and one Asian – or the group of women seen leaving the area in a taxi were unsuccessful.
One witness noted the car registration number, leading police to identify Lindsay as its registered keeper, and officers went to his address in Aylesbury but failed to find him.
Searches of police files revealed Lindsay was registered to a London address and had a previous record for cannabis possession and importing controlled drugs.
However, the investigation ground to a halt after the officer in charge, Detective Sergeant Grant Maxted, of Bedfordshire Police, went on leave.
While Mr Maxted acknowledged that Bedfordshire Police had a “good lead” from the outset, he insisted there were no failures in its operation.
A victim of the alleged armed robbery was never identified and the red Fiat Brava was not seen again until it was found in the car park at Luton railway station after the 7/7 atrocity, the inquest heard.
Hugo Keith QC, counsel to the inquests, told the hearing: “Inquiries were left outstanding when Mr Maxted left to go on a residential course in June.
“The notebooks of CID officers which have been disclosed show that they have no notes in them at all after that day.”
Meanwhile, he said the investigation by Thames Valley Police, who were asked to trace the Fiat Brava, went nowhere, leaving them with an “outstanding query”.
When asked if that Fiat Brava was the “best lead that you had?”, Mr Maxted replied: “It was yes, it certainly was a lead.”
But asked if the Thames Valley Police inquiry was ever followed up, he replied: “I don’t know, I couldn’t find any other information.”
Lindsay and three other West Yorkshire suicide bombers, including Mohammed Siddique Khan, of Dewsbury, detonated bombs on three Tube trains and a double-deck bus.