'Significant flaws' by police led to delays in treating Manchester Arena victims

Inquiry into Ariana Grande concert attack to hear force did not declare major incident for three hours

Experts will tell an inquiry into the Manchester Arena bombing that “significant flaws” by police led to a series of devastating delays in tending to victims.

The public inquiry into the terrorist attack was told on Tuesday the force did not declare a major incident until three hours after Salman Abedi’s attack at the Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people and injured 260.

Around 14,000 fans were at the concert on on 22 May 2017 when Abedi, 22, detonated his homemade bomb packed with shrapnel in the foyer known as the City Room outside the arena.

On the second day of the hearings in Manchester, Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said the bombing “cried out for an effective, coordinated response” but that the inquiry would hear evidence of a number of failings.

He said that evidence included details of a commanding officer initially believing reports of the incident to be a hoax and quickly becoming overwhelmed once a live incident was declared.

Greaney also told the inquiry that policing experts said a senior GMP commander was “ultimately accountable for the significant flaws in the GMP response”. “The experts’ view is that these flaws include, but are not limited to, the non-timely activation of emergency plans ... The inquiry will investigate where these criticisms are justified and if they are, what impact they had.”

Greaney said there was a lack of equipment, with only one stretcher used during the incident, and hundreds of those injured were carried in arms or on makeshift carriers. The fire service, which did have stretchers, only arrived at the scene two hours and six minutes after the bomb went off.

Greaney added that a number of major changes had been implemented by the emergency services since the attack.

The treatment of one of the victims, John Atkinson, 28, was highlighted on Tuesday. Atkinson was taken on a makeshift stretcher to a triage area of Victoria station, which forms part of the arena venue site, and remained there for another 24 minutes, with chest compressions only starting on him one hour and 15 minutes after he was first injured in the blast.

The hearing was played one of the first phone calls to emergency services by a distressed member of the public, Ronald Blake, who cared for Atkinson in his final moments.

Just seconds after the attack, Blake, who had been at the venue to pick up his daughter, could be heard shouting that many people had been injured as he comforted and tended to an injured Atkinson. Blake would go on to remain with Atkinson for just short of an hour in the aftermath of the attack. As the recording was played Atkinson’s family left the hearing room.

Greaney said: “The issue of John Atkinson’s survivability is, as we shall explore, a significant issue for the inquiry to consider.”

Earlier Greaney said it was surprising that Greater Manchester police (GMP) had not made any provision or plan for the concert that night, revealing that officers did not even know the event was taking place. Instead, it was left to the British Transport police (BTP), officers specialising in the railways, to take the lead and confusion in the chain of command lead to major delays and failings in the aftermath of the incident.

The inquiry was also told that GMP only declared a major incident at 1am, almost three hours after the attack. Greaney said there would be a wider investigation questioning the adequacy and effectiveness of the multi-agency response.

He went on to read from BTP officer Jessica Bullough’s statement, the first police officer on the scene, less than two minutes after the blast.

It said: “I can only describe it as a war zone. There was a number of bodies on the floor and blood everywhere. The whole place was smokey and in my words, carnage.”

She immediately sent a message on the radio saying “it’s definitely a bomb”, finding nuts and bolts scattered across the scene, and repeated requests were made for ambulances and “as many resources as possible”.

But 24 minutes after the blast a radio message to control from another officer, a PC Roach, was heard, with him saying: “You are going to hate me. Where’s our ambulances please?” The controller replied: “We don’t know, we’re calling them again.”

Abedi’s younger brother, Hashem, was tried and convicted of helping to plan the attacks after being extradited from Libya last year. In August he was sentenced to at least 55 years in prison.


Nazia Parveen North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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