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Manchester Arena bombing inquiry hears officer put injured child in police car as no ambulances at scene

Written by on 11 March 2021

One of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the Manchester Arena bombing had to put an injured child in a police car because no ambulances had arrived, an inquiry has heard.

It was told Sergeant David Cawley was at a British Transport Police office opposite the arena car park when he heard a loud noise and the windows shuddered.

As he ran towards the noise, he spotted a child who was with her parents and needed medical help but as he headed out to the car park he could see no ambulances were yet on site.

Nick de la Poer QC for the inquiry said Sgt Cawley then had to arrange for a colleague in a police car to take the girl to hospital.

Armed police blocked off roads around the arena after the bombing Image: Armed police blocked off roads around the arena after the bombing

On 22 May 2017, an Islamist extremist suicide bomber detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb just as concertgoers were leaving the arena following a concert by singer Ariana Grande.

A total of 23 people died, including the attacker, and more than 800 were wounded – many of them children.

The Manchester Arena Inquiry is an independent public inquiry, established by Home Secretary Priti Patel to investigate the deaths of the victims.

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Sgt Cawley told the hearing on Wednesday that after helping the young girl he gave an update to his control room in Birmingham – and later to the control room in London because British Transport Police had shut down its regional control room in Manchester.

Each of the emergency services, and both police forces, designated separate rendezvous points and none of them shared what they knew about the unfolding emergency, the inquiry then heard.

The fire service, who had a control room based in Warrington, Cheshire, picked a fire station three and a half miles away at Phillips Park.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) picked a car park at the cathedral, half a mile away, and British Transport Police chose the Fish Dock car park, opposite the arena.

North West Ambulance Service eventually arrived on Hunts Bank, the road outside the arena.

Manchester attack victims Image: A total of 23 people died in the attack and more than 800 were wounded

Sir John Saunders, chairman of the inquiry, said it looked “slightly odd that you didn’t know of GMP’s and they didn’t know of yours”.

“It seems odd that you were reporting to someone taking control who was in Birmingham and you had to spell things out to him?”

Sgt Cawley said: “It is something as a British Transport Police officer you become used to it. They don’t have the geographical awareness that you have.”

Sgt Cawley said the e-learning he had been given for his job was “clinical and sterile” and involved “posed situations” but real life was “entirely different.”

He did not assign a forward command point where all the services would meet, telling the inquiry: “It is supposed to happen – and classroom learning tells you that it will happen and people with white tabards will be there – but my experience on the night is that in the chaos that didn’t happen.”

Sgt Cawley was the most senior officer on the ground but he did not enter the City Room where the bomb had gone off until 11.15pm – 44 minutes after the explosion.

He eventually handed over to Chief Inspector Mark Dexter, the ground assigned tactical firearms commander for Greater Manchester Police, at 11.34pm – over an hour after the explosion.

“He was the first person I had seen in pips. I tried to hand over but he seemed to be in shock,” Sgt Cawley said.

“While I was trying to speak to him he was staring straight ahead. He didn’t, it seemed to me, grasp the gravity of what I was saying.”

The inquiry continues.