Martyn Hett: Victim’s family recall Manchester Arena attack 5 years on

Stepfather Stuart Murray describes the fallout from his son’s death and his lasting legacy on their family

Dawn was breaking on 23 May 2017 when Stuart and Figen Murray turned up at the Etihad Stadium to register their son, Martyn Hett, as missing in the Manchester Arena attack. They were the first relatives to arrive at Manchester City’s ground, the muster point for those seeking loved ones who had been at the Ariana Grande concert the night before.

With no confirmed death toll from the suicide bomb that exploded after Grande’s finale, Stuart, Martyn’s stepdad, feared what might await them: “I just thought, ‘bloody hell, they must have hundreds of bodies laid out on the football pitch. Are we going to have to walk around these bodies to see if one of them is Martyn?’ At the same time, it was still early. I was thinking, he’s probably just gone awol. Martyn, when he went out, traditionally went astray. He once phoned us saying ‘I’ve fallen asleep on the train home to Stockport and woken up in Nottingham, what should I do?’. He was always losing his phone.”

Dr Stuart Murray, stepfather of Martyn Hett one of the 22 victims of the Manchester Arena bomb attack on 22 May 2017, at home in Poynton, Cheshire.
Dr Stuart Murray, stepfather of Martyn Hett one of the 22 victims of the Manchester Arena bomb attack on 22 May 2017, at home in Poynton, Cheshire. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

As the hours ticked by, there was still no sign of Martyn. The Murrays told police that the 29-year-old social media manager had a tattoo of his favourite Coronation Street matriarch. Surely that would make him easy to identify?

“It was the longest day ever,” said Stuart, a GP. “I started to think there’s only one reason why they aren’t telling us and that’s because Martyn has been blown to bits. There’s only one person with a Deirdre Barlow tattoo on their leg.”

Every now and again, another family would be ushered upstairs to learn their loved one’s fate. It had gone 7pm when the Murrays decided to go home. They were in the stadium car park when a family liaison officer ran after them. “We were taken to a little room and told they’d found Martyn. The family liaison officer broke down. I gave her a big hug,” remembered Stuart this week.

Martyn had been just four metres away from Salman Abedi when he detonated his suicide bomb. The family later learned that Martyn was only there because he had gone into conversation with a stranger about his tattoo – created on the E4 programme Tattoo Fixers – after going to the toilet near the end of the concert. He told his friends he would join them soon, saying airily: “I’m just talking to my fans.” But the security guards wouldn’t let him back in the Arena, which is how he ended up in the foyer, near Abedi and his rucksack packed with explosives.

The day after the atrocity, the Murray’s home in Stockport had been visited by a constant stream of journalists. Their other children – adults Dan and Emma and teenagers Nikita and Louise – were waiting for news of their brother and kept answering the door to reporters offering premature condolences.

Looking back, Stuart thinks it wasn’t right for journalists to door-step the family so early in the tragedy: “There should be some sort of grace period where they don’t pester you. Because you’re not in the right state of mind. And at that point, none of us knew if Martyn had just found some mates and gone to an after party.”

Martyn Hett.
Martyn Hett. Photograph: Martyn Hett

Dan Hett, Martyn’s older brother, had also received approaches at his home the morning after the attack.

He later created an interactive video game which put the player in his shoes that day, and the resulting publicity prompted apologies from some of the reporters who had asked for comment in the aftermath.

Losing Martyn prompted Figen, his therapist mother, to complete a masters degree in counter-terrorism. She also began a campaign for better security at venues. Her proposed legislation, known colloquially as Martyn’s law, featured in the Queen’s speech earlier this month. If passed by MPs, it will give large venues a “protect duty”, which would involve counter terror training for staff and more thorough security checks, including bag searches.

“I think that after something like this you either sink and drown or you swim. It’s called post traumatic growth. You try to make something of it, which is what Figen has done,” said Stuart. He considers his own achievement carrying on working amid the grief and while following the inquiry into the atrocity and the trial of Hashem Abedi, the bomber’s brother. “Being a GP full-time is hard enough. A lot of people don’t work again after something like this.”

A year after the attack he appeared on Tattoo Fixers to get a tattoo of Martyn dressed as Deirdre Barlow. He now likes to focus on the positives. “I just try to remind everyone there’s a lot of kindness in the world, and love. It’s probably something I would never have said before because I’m not that kind of person. But the reality is, we got so much love although that evil happened.”

He added: “People always seem to want us to be angry, especially the media: ‘Oh, can you say a few words after the sentencing of [Abedi’s] brother, you must be glad, you must be really angry’ etc. But it’s irrelevant. Let’s talk about other things. I don’t want to put more anger out there.”

This weekend Martyn’s family will get together at the Murray’s home for what Stuart describes as “a big party”. He says it is “definitely what Martyn would have wanted. He was always asking to have parties at our house, because it’s big, and I would say to him: ‘Martyn, you’ve a grown up, you’ve left home you can have a party in your own house.’”

He added: “So his legacy to me is that now I do it: we have that party that I never allowed.”


Helen Pidd North of England editor

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