In Brief

Manchester Arena bombing: report criticises fire service

Coroner’s inquest to decide if fire services delayed response could have saved lives

A report on last year’s Manchester Arena bombing, which claimed the lives of 22 and injured more than 100, has roundly criticised the city’s fire service.

The review, by Lord Kerslake, says “out of the loop” fire crews took more than two hours to attend the scene of the blast, despite a paramedic arriving within 11 minutes.

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated his home-made device at 10.31pm, as concert-goers were leaving a concert by US singer Ariana Grande. Fire crews arrived two hours and six minutes later, even though the average response time is under six minutes.

Kerslake finds poor communication meant Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) was “brought to the point of paralysis”, despite having a plan in place for dealing with marauding armed terrorists. He says “risk-averse” chief fire officers kept emergency-trained responders away from any zone of danger.

The ambulance service, arena staff and British Transport Police are all praised by Kerslake for showing “enormous bravery and compassion”.

Would the earlier arrival of fire crews have made a difference to the medical outcome of the injured? That is “a question that only the coronial inquests can decide”, Kerslake writes.

He concludes, however, that 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 earlier.

Kerslake said both GMFRS and north-west fire control accepted they had “let down the people of Greater Manchester and other visitors to the city that night”.

The Times says Greater Manchester police “will be deeply disappointed at what the Kerslake panel deemed the failure to smoothly manage the agencies at their disposal, and with paramedics sent in to risk their lives unaware of whether more terrorists were at large”.

Vodafone also comes in for “heavy criticism”, says The Guardian, because its network suffered a “catastrophic failure” which meant an emergency phone system to help people get information in the event of a terrorist attack failed to work properly.

Not only did this hamper police communications, it also left a number of anxious families unable to find out the whereabouts and condition of missing and injured relatives.

As well as focusing on the emergency services, the review explores the media response and how families of victims were treated in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

While there was condemnation from victim’s relatives of press intrusion in the days and weeks after the attack, others reserved their ire for politicians. One relative told Kerslake: “My family feel very angry and let down by the government as there has been no help, support or funding in any way... if it wasn’t for the generosity of the public... we would probably be homeless.”

In response, Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who commissioned the report, said there should be “no scapegoating” and argued that despite describing the failure by fire chiefs as “extraordinary” and incredible, Kerslake had concluded the emergency response was “overwhelmingly positive”.

A previous review by the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation found that MI5 might have been able to prevent the attack, having dismissed two pieces of intelligence on Abedi that were “highly relevant” to his plans.

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