January 16, 2019
International Crime

Manchester attack fire crews ‘sent away from arena blast’

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Firefighters who heard the Manchester Arena bomb go off were sent away from the scene despite a paramedic arriving within 11 minutes, a report says.

Fire crews “stuck to the rules” for a suspected active terrorist but it was “fortuitous” paramedics were not kept away, the Kerslake Report said.

It meant “out of the loop” fire crews were delayed by two hours before joining emergency efforts in May 2017.

The report found “poor communication” after Salman Abedi killed 22 people.

Suicide bomber Abedi detonated a home-made device at 22:31 BST as 14,000 people streamed out of an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May, leaving more than 700 injured.

The first North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) paramedic arrived at 22:42 and was told the incident was a “suicide bomber” by police.

A Greater Manchester Police (GMP) duty inspector in the force control room declared Operation Plato, a pre-arranged plan in the face of a suspected marauding armed terrorist, and wrongly assumed others were aware.

Under Operation Plato inspectors can allow paramedics and police to continue treating the injured even though they may be in danger of further attacks.

However, a senior Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) officer “stuck to rules”, keeping emergency responders 500m (0.3m) away from any suspected zone of danger.

The 226-page report said it was “fortuitous” the NWAS was not informed, otherwise it may have pulled out paramedics who instead stayed and “lives were saved”.

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”.

GMFRS and the control room “felt they had let down the people of Greater Manchester” on the night of the blast.

An early decision was taken to base crews at Philips Park Fire Station – about two miles away from the arena – rather than with police at the city’s cathedral car park.

The move hampered communication and awareness of what was happening at the scene, the report found.

“The fire service was effectively outside the loop [and had] little awareness of what was happening at the arena,” it said.

The Kerslake Report into the emergency service response found “strategic oversights” by police commanders led to confusion over whether an “active shooter” was on the loose.

It said “poor communications” between GMP and GMFRS meant fire crews only arrived two hours and six minutes after the bombing. Its average response time is under six minutes.

The report made more than 50 recommendations but states its panel of experts was not there to answer the question of: “Would the earlier arrival of GMFRS at the scene 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.

The panel, chaired by former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake, also found:

  • Many key emergency personnel “exercised sound judgement”
  • The force duty officer from GMP is praised for “dynamic decision making” in allowing responders to remain in the foyer to carry out first aid
  • Four British Transport Police officers who had been on duty at Victoria station – which is connected to the arena – arrived at the scene within 30 seconds of the blast
  • However, agencies failed to share information effectively following the declaration of the incident as a terror attack
  • Communication with the families of the dead and injured was affected by the “complete failure” of a telephone system supplied by Vodafone, leaving many frantically searching hospitals for their relatives
  • Some bereaved families felt it took too long for them to be told of their loved ones’ deaths
  • Families felt “hounded” by the media, with reports of a “scrum” of journalists outside hospitals
  • Children from two families were offered condolences by reporters at their homes before the deaths had been officially confirmed
  • Hospital staff were offered £2,000 to speak to the press by way of a note hidden in a tin of biscuits

Lord Kerslake said there was “a lot to be proud of” in the response to the attack.

“But it’s also vital to learn the lessons around things that did not go so well,” he added.

“It matters not just for the people of Greater Manchester and beyond who were caught up in the terrible events of that night, but also for places that might be caught up in such an attack in the future.”

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