Sunday 23 September 2018

Fire crews kept half a mile from Manchester Arena bomb for two hours amid confusion over 'gunman on loose'

Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedidrop. Photo: AP
Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedidrop. Photo: AP

Ben Farmer

Confusion over whether a gunman was on the loose after the Manchester Arena bombing meant specialist firefighters were not sent to the scene for more than two hours, a report has found.

The fire service was left effectively "outside of the loop" of police and ambulance crews, so firefighters trained in first-aid and terror scenarios did not get permission to go to the scene, despite being stationed half a mile away.

"Strategic oversights" by police commanders led to confusion over whether there was an "active shooter" after the attack that killed 22 and poor communications meant fire crews only arrived two hours and six minutes after the bombing.

The 226-page report by Lord Bob Kerslake was commissioned by Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, to assess the preparedness and emergency response to the attack last year.

The report makes 50 recommendations, but states its panel of experts was not to answer the question of whether the earlier arrival of fire crews would "have made any difference to the medical outcomes of the injured?" "This is a question that only the coronial inquests can decide," the report said.

But it says firefighters "would have been much better placed to support and, potentially, to accelerate the evacuation of casualties from the foyer," if they had gone to the scene.

Salman Abedi detonated his home-made device at 10.31pm on May 22 last year, as 14,000 people streamed out of Manchester Arena at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

Read More: Manchester Arena bombing report says 'learn lessons from Hillsborough'

Officers from British Transport Police were on scene one minute later and declared a major incident by 10.39pm.

The police duty inspector in the GMP force control room declared Operation Plato, a pre-arranged plan when it is suspected a marauding armed terrorist may be on the loose - and assumed, wrongly, other agencies were aware.

But he was praised for taking one of the most crucial "life or death" decisions of the night, a "key use of discretion" to override the rules and allow paramedics and police to continue treating the injured even though they may be in danger of further attacks.

GMFRS and the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) were only informed an hour and a half later and by then Operation Plato was effectively put on "stand by" as it emerged the attack was from a single suicide bomber and not the prelude to further armed attacks.

Armed police and 12 ambulances were on the scene within 20 minutes but a shortage of stretchers hampered ferrying the injured from the foyer to a casualty area on the station concourse.

The senior fire officer on duty, a National Inter-Agency Liaison Officer, stuck to rules which dictate keeping emergency responders 500 metres away from any suspected "hot" zone of danger from a potential armed terrorist.

A message is left for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack in central Manchester. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
A message is left for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack in central Manchester. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

It was "fortuitous" the NWAS were not informed - otherwise they may have pulled out their paramedics, the report stated and instead they stayed and "lives were saved".

Read More: 'Tears never far away' - says mum of Manchester bomb victim Martyn Hett

As the fire officer could not get through on the phone to the police force duty officer, the response of the fire service was "brought to the point of paralysis" to the "immense frustration on the firefighters faces".

Instead of rushing to the scene to help, fire crews and a Special Response Team, trained to deal with terrorist incidents, rendezvoused at fire station outside the city centre.

And while a joint strategic co-ordinating group of emergency response services and others gathered at GMP HQ in east Manchester, GMFRS chief fire officer Peter O'Reilly, who has now retired, focused his senior officers at their own HQ in Salford, which played a "key role" in delaying the response further.

The report said it hopes, in future, different services control rooms not being able to properly pass critical information between them "will never happen again."

Telegraph.co.uk

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