Greater Manchester police were warned about shortcomings in their terrorism response plans six months before the Manchester Arena bombing, the public inquiry into the attack has been told.
The inquiry heard on Monday how the police inspectorate outlined a number of concerns it had identified, as part of a national review, in a November 2016 “hot debrief” with GMP’s counter-terrorism lead, Catherine Hankinson.
Among the inspectorate’s conclusions was the risk of a force duty officer becoming overwhelmed in the event of a marauding terrorist firearms incident (MTFA).
Inspectors found that the majority of force duty officers “felt ill-equipped” to deal with a terrorism incident and needed more training before enacting Operation Plato, the police codename for a continuing marauding attack.
The inquiry heard that the inspectorate report quoted an unnamed force duty officer as saying: “I get two days on how to command vehicle pursuit and approximately one to two hours in MTFA.”
The inquiry has previously heard that, on receiving reports of gunshot injuries and an active gunman during the arena attack on 22 May 2017, Insp Dale Sexton, the force duty officer at GMP HQ, declared Operation Plato, believing an armed terrorist was on the loose.
The Plato plan included the designation of a hot zone into which only suitably trained firearms officers could go, and dictated when emergency services could help those injured.
The inquiry has heard that for the first 40 minutes after the blast, only one paramedic was in the City Room foyer, where Salman Abedi detonated his suicide bomb killing 22 people, and that the first fire engine arrived more than two hours after the explosion.
Giving evidence on Monday, Andrew Buchan, associate inspector with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, said it found GMP’s Plato plan to be “very tactically focused” but did not go into detail about operations jointly conducted with other agencies.
Buchan told counsel to the inquiry Paul Greaney QC that GMP had placed an “over-reliance” on the force duty officer (FDO) to lead its response to a terrorist attack.
The inspectorate’s report was critical of “the number of tasks the FDO was expected to perform” saying that “in all likelihood there are so many that it may be some will not be completed or at least in the order expected”, the inquiry heard.
The report concluded: “There is no question that the FDO is being overloaded with tasks in the initial stages of a potential Plato and will require urgent help.”
Those findings were passed on to then assistant chief constable Hankinson – now assistant chief constable at West Yorkshire police – in early November 2016, when the terror threat level in the UK was severe.
The hearing continues.