Chief constable apologises ‘unreservedly’ for ‘inadequate’ response to Manchester Arena bombing

The chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has “apologised unreservedly” for the “substantially inadequate” response to the Manchester Arena bombing.

Nov 3, 2022
By Paul Jacques
GMP Chief Constable Stephen Watson during a press conference in Manchester following the publication of the Manchester Arena Inquiry volume two report on emergency services response. Picture: PA Media

Stephen Watson said he “fully accepts” the findings of the inquiry into the atrocity on May 22, 2017, in which 22 people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his device at the end of a concert by the singer Ariana Grande.

He said the response was “substantially inadequate and fell short of what the public had every right to expect”.

In a statement following publication of Sir John Saunders’ second report of the public inquiry into the bombing, Mr Watson said: “On May 22, 2017, at the Manchester Arena, 22 people were murdered and more than 1,000 injured, in a planned, indiscriminate and cowardly act of abject barbarity.

“Today our thoughts are with the bereaved families, and the survivors, who have been central to everything we have done since the attack took place.

“This inquiry set out to leave no stone unturned in its effort to provide answers about what happened on the night of the attack.

“The comprehensive report that we received this morning records the very detailed summation of Sir John Saunders’ findings and is the embodiment of the care taken by him to fulfil its purpose. We recognise that many aspects of the latest published volume will make for difficult and distressing reading for those most affected.

“On behalf of GMP, I thank the inquiry team for the opportunities that we have been given to participate fully and fairly in the inquiry process and we welcome today’s report.

“I fully accept the findings of the chair, Sir John Saunders.

“Beyond the selflessness and professionalism of so many of our frontline staff, however, it is also clear that our coordination of the response to this atrocity was inadequate.

“We had failed to plan effectively, and the execution of that which had been planned, was simply not good enough. Our actions were substantially inadequate and fell short of what the public had every right to expect.

“For this, I apologise unreservedly.

“Our failure to effect proper command and control of the incident, from the outset, undermined an effective multi-agency response to a dreadful set of circumstances. We did not act upon learning from previous exercises which could have reduced the burden or impact felt on the Force Duty Officer.

“Poor communications, poor planning, inadequate training and shortcomings in strategic leadership all played a part in our failure.

“All of these failings could, and should, have been identified and mitigated through learning from robustly designed training exercises under the auspices of our Local Resilience Forum. Alas, these were opportunities that were not sufficiently taken.

“Sadly GMP’s combined failings were significant and contributed to the loss of life. To the families and loved ones of those who died, I am truly sorry.

“It is important that we now take the time to carefully consider every facet to the volume published today and we have a dedicated team already in place for this purpose.

“But I also want to assure the public that we have not waited for the publication of today’s findings before making a number of substantial and beneficial changes to our operational model.

“In recent years, GMP has strengthened its leadership at all levels and has placed a premium on core operational competence and effectiveness’We have developed a detailed Memorandum of Understanding with the British Transport Police for the Arena site, amongst others, to ensure absolute clarity between our organisations as to roles and responsibilities

“We now have a rigorous process to ensure the greater testing and practical awareness of multi-agency communication methods to the point today, where their use is second nature.

“GMP has dramatically enhanced our commitment to the Greater Manchester Local Resilience Forum and indeed, one of our senior officers currently chairs this important element of our joint preparedness.

“We have completed the wholesale reform of our force control room function. Significant investment has enabled single site working, additional staffing and enhanced training

“We have improved the way that we debrief critical incidents so as to better capture and share organisational learning

“We have invested substantially in improved first aid training and equipment for all our front-line officers – for example all GMP vehicles have been issued with enhanced first aid kits, which include torniquets and we have significantly enhanced the numbers of defibrillators routinely available to our staff.

“In short, I am already able to confidently state that GMP is now in a fundamentally stronger position than it was in 2017, should we be called upon to lead and respond to a similarly challenging event.

“I say this not least because GMP and our partner agencies have sadly had to apply our combined resources to a number of real-life major incident responses since 2017. In these circumstances, the fact that we have reviewed and tested our multi-agency responses have proven beneficial in delivering the professional and well-coordinated operational effort required.

“I am also able to provide an assurance that our learning is currently being widely shared. Whilst the inquiry has considered a terrible event in Greater Manchester, the eyes of policing nationally are on this report.

“We have already established a clear means of disseminating the learning throughout policing under the auspices of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and through the Counter Terrorism Police Network.”

Mr Watson added: “As I have already indicated, we now have more work to do and will do so in earnest, I would like to stress the point that because of the terrible events at the Arena that night – we do things differently and better.

“On the night many of our officers ran bravely straight into the face of danger and gave their very best to help those injured by any means necessary, with courage, determination and compassion; and without any regard to their own safety. I am grateful to the chair for his acknowledgement of their commitment and for the positive words written of their contribution.

“I am also proud of the painstaking and exemplary criminal investigation which followed the attack and led to the extradition and conviction of the bomber’s brother on 22 counts of murder with a minimum term of 55 years’ imprisonment.

“The horrific nature of that which is still being endured by so many drives us to ensure that we never repeat these failings. In this the public can be confident of our resolve. This is the very least of what GMP can offer to those who are still suffering – a fierce determination to ensure that your loss and hurt will not be in vain.”

Among the key findings of the inquiry report published on Thursday (November 3) were:

  • By 2017, GMP was well-aware that, in the event of an incident such as occurred on May 22, 2017, the Force Duty Officer could become overwhelmed or overburdened. GMP failed to take adequate steps to address this problem;
  • GMP failed to embed Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) adequately in its officers and staff prior to the attack;
  • GMP failed to train its unarmed officers in awareness of Operation Plato – – a national pre-determined response to a marauding armed terrorist – or keep it under review;
  • GMP frontline officers were not adequately trained in first aid. This was a national issue and not the fault of GMP;
  • Firearms officers should have received more training in when they should use their enhanced first aid skills; and

• Firearms offices were not adequately trained in Operation Plato zoning.

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