Emergency chiefs apologise after scathing report into Manchester Arena bombing response

Police, fire and ambulance chiefs offered profuse apologies after a scathing report into the emergency response to the Manchester Arena bombing.

One of the 22 people murdered in the suicide attack would probably have survived but for the failures on the night, the report said, which made 149 recommendations in light of the public inquiry into the bombing.

Care worker John Atkinson, 28, was six metres away when the explosion went off in the City Room foyer of the venue at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on the evening of May 22 2017.

A member of the public used his wife’s belt as a tourniquet on Mr Atkinson’s leg as he lay bleeding in agony on the City Room floor for up to 50 minutes, during which time he told a police officer: “I’m gonna die.”

Mr Atkinson’s family said, “It is crystal clear that due to those failings, John died from injuries that he could and should have survived.

“John must have known that he was dying and the pain that causes us is too great to put into words.

“This should simply never have been allowed to happen.”

Hours after Manchester Arena Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders delivered his critical report, four chief officers in Greater Manchester from the police, fire, British Transport Police and the ambulance services, sat grim-faced at a press conference, some speaking of the personal “shame” they felt.

Sir John’s report concluded: “Significant aspects of the emergency response on May 22 2017 went wrong. This should not have happened.

“Some of what went wrong had serious and, in the case of John Atkinson, fatal consequences for those directly affected by the explosion.”

Sir John said it was “highly unlikely” that the bombing’s youngest victim, eight-year-old Saffie-Rose Roussos, would have survived her injuries with “only a remote possibility she could have survived with different treatment and care”.

Failures highlighted in the report included

  • Only three paramedics entered the City Room on the night to treat the dying and injured
  • The initial command of the incident was taken by Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) force duty officer, Inspector Dale Sexton, who quickly became overwhelmed by the number of tasks in hand.
  • Insp Sexton failed to tell other emergency services he had declared Operation Plato – a pre-arranged plan for a suspected marauding terrorist
  • No common rendezvous point for 999 services was established
  • Fire crews took more than two hours to even attend the incident after station manager Andy Berry chose to mobilise resources three miles from the Arena amid fears over safety.
  • Evacuation of casualties failed, with 36 people still waiting to be taken from the City Room past midnight.

By 10.50pm, the City Room was a “cold zone” said Sir John, where it was assessed there was no immediate threat to life from an armed terrorist – but neither paramedics nor firefighters were deployed en masse to the City Room amid confusion over whether an armed terrorist was still on the loose.

Instead, ambulances lined up outside the venue and firefighters mustered at a fire station three miles away.

Stephen Watson, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said, “Our actions were substantially inadequate and fell short of what the public have every right to expect, and for this, I apologise unreservedly.

“There’s a combination of real sadness, real disappointment.

“An element of being ashamed that we did not do what we set out to do, but also a genuine determination that this never happens again.”

The Chief Constable of British Transport Police, Lucy D’Orsi, said their “preparation and planning was inadequate”, and she was “truly sorry” to all those affected.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s Chief Fire Officer, Dave Russel, appeared to become emotional as he said the service’s response to the bombing will “forever be a matter of deep regret for our service”.

He added: “I do feel sadness and I do feel ashamed.

Daren Mochrie, chief executive of North West Ambulance Service said: “On occasions like this, the word sorry has the risk of sounding hollow. Nevertheless, I want to make it clear that while our actions were well-intentioned, we apologise wholeheartedly for our failures.”

Sir John’s first report on security issues at the Arena was issued last June and highlighted a string of “missed opportunities” to identify Abedi as a threat before he walked across the City Room and detonated his shrapnel-laden device.

The third and final report will focus on the radicalisation of Abedi and what the intelligence services and counter-terrorism police knew, and if they could have prevented the attack. It will be published at a later date.

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