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Manchester police unaware Ariana Grande concert was taking place on night of bombing

Written by on 8 September 2020

Police in Manchester didn’t know the Ariana Grande concert was taking place on the night of the arena bombing as transport officers were responsible for the venue, a public inquiry has heard.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry into the tragedy, told the hearing that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) “did not know on an organisational level about the Ariana Grande concert and had not made any provision or plan for the concert that night”.

“On the face of it that may seem surprising,” he said.

Around 14,000 fans were at the venue when suicide bomber Salman Abedi, 22, detonated his home-made bomb, killing 22 and injuring hundreds of others on 22 May 2017.

The City Room entrance to the arena, above Victoria train station, is owned by Network Rail, and British Transport Police were responsible for policing the area, the hearing was told.

GMP could also operate there – and believed there was an “exception” that would see them take over in the event of a terrorist attack.

“Whether there was such an exception, and if so how it was expected to work in theory and practice, will be for the inquiry to investigate,” Mr Greaney said.

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He also described the venue as an “obvious target for terrorists” in light of a terror attack training exercise that took place beforehand in the very same area.

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British Transport Police had responsibility for the policing of the arena

He told the hearing: “The exercise, less than a year before the bomb attack, was based on a scenario in which a marauding firearms attack began at Victoria station and ended in the nearby City Room entrance to the arena.

“The very fact that a terrorist attack in the City Room was expressly envisaged as a suitable set of facts for a multiple agency exercise, may speak volumes about how obvious a target for terrorists the City Room was.”

The inquiry was told that Inspector Dale Sexton from Greater Manchester Police triggered Operation Plato at 10.47pm, 16 minutes after the bomb attack.

It also heard that the ambulance service only brought one stretcher into the arena to deal with casualties, while others were evacuated on makeshift ones.

Only one paramedic had entered the City Room in the first 40 minutes following the explosion and the fire brigade arrived more than two hours after, the hearing was told.

PC Jessica Bullough, a British Transport Police officer who was the one the scene, said in a statement: “I ran into the City Room and I can only describe it as a war zone.

Salman and Hashem Abedi: The brothers who bombed Manchester

Salman and Hashem Abedi: The brothers who bombed Manchester

“There were a number of casualties on the floor, blood everywhere, the whole place was smokey. There were nuts and bolts everywhere and burning material.”

In the first 10 minutes, at least 12 British Transport Police officers had reached or were in immediate vicinity of the City Room, the hearing was told.

It was only at 10.49pm, 19 minutes after the explosion, that a paramedic called Patrick Ennis arrived at the war memorial entrance to Victoria Station – the first member of North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) to make it to the scene, the inquiry heard.

Six minutes later at 10.55pm, “a full 24 minutes after the explosion”, an officer sent a message to the control room saying: “You’re going to hate me, where’s our ambulances please?”

It responded: “We don’t know. we’re calling them again.”

What we can expect from the Manchester Arena inquiry

What we can expect from the Manchester Arena inquiry

Another paramedic called Daniel Smith and a doctor called Michael Daley arrived at the scene at 10.59pm, but 40 minutes after the explosion Mr Ennis was the only the only paramedic to have been into the City Room, Mr Greaney said.

John Atkinson, 28, a victim who survived the initial explosion, was carried from the venue on a display board at 11.17pm, 46 minutes after the explosion.

At 11.47pm, an hour and 15 minutes after the blast, chest compressions were started on Mr Atkinson near the Victoria Station war memorial entrance by a paramedic while he was in cardiac arrest.

“The issue of John Atkinson’s survivability is a significant issue for the inquiry to consider,” Mr Greaney said.

Other people who suffered injuries were carried out on makeshift stretchers made from cardboard and crowd control barriers, with the final person evacuated at 11.40pm, the hearing was told.

It was only at 12.37pm that three vehicles from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) arrived, the inquiry heard.

Mr Greaney acknowledged that the pressure the emergency responders came under “must have been enormous.”

But he said: “We have to probe the emergency response to see if there were mistakes and so that the bereaved families know the truth and real lessons can be learned in the future.”