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Greater Manchester FRS issues statement on Arena Inquiry Report Volume 2

07 November 2022

THE MANCHESTER Arena Inquiry, itself a statutory Public Inquiry, was established by the (then) Home Secretary in 2019 to investigate the deaths of the victims of the terrorist attack that took place on 22 May 2017. Inquiry chair Sir John Saunders has just published the 916-page Volume 2 report focused on findings and recommendations relating to the emergency response to the attack. In turn, the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has issued a statement.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s Chief Fire Officer Dave Russel has had the following to say in response to Sir John Saunders’ Volume 2 report:

“The Manchester Arena Inquiry Volume 2 report has made for very difficult reading for myself as Chief Fire Officer of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, and also my colleagues. I want to start by wholeheartedly apologising to the families of the 22 innocent people who lost their lives on that tragic night in May 2017, and to the survivors whose lives are changed forever.”

Russel continued: “Our response that night was wholly inadequate and totally ineffective. That will forever be a matter of deep regret for our Fire and Rescue Service. We let the families and the public down in their time of need and for that I am truly sorry. I know that no apology will take away the pain and suffering of the families who lost loved ones and of the survivors. I do want them to know that I fully accept the Inquiry’s criticisms of our Fire and Rescue Service and I accept the recommendations in full. I also want to thank Sir John Saunders for his work throughout the Inquiry and in producing this report.”

He went on to comment: “The Public Inquiry process has been one of the most challenging times in our Fire and Rescue Service’s history and today is a very difficult day for many, especially those who so desperately wanted to help that night. Every firefighter who joins the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service wants to do their best. The best job they can – to help, to support, to assist the public and to save lives. Those that were eventually deployed to the incident that night did the best they could, albeit it was far too late.”

Important framework

Continuing his lengthy statement, Russel observed: “While we have already made significant changes to address the failings in how we responded on the night, the Public Inquiry’s recommendations provide a critically important framework for ensuring that we take all the necessary steps to always be ready and able to respond to a terrorist attack anywhere in our city region.”

The Volume 2 report is both long and complex. On that basis, Russel has pointed out that it will take time to digest the recommendations fully, to cross-reference them against improvements already put in place and also to consider whether any gaps remain. Nonetheless, he has moved to address several of the issues raised in the document.

“As I’ve said, and the Inquiry notes, we were simply too late in our response. Five years on from the attack, I want the public to know that this will never happen again. Today’s Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is better prepared, better equipped, better trained, better exercised and more resilient.”

The Kerslake Review

The Kerslake Review, which was set up by the Mayor of Greater Manchester subsequent to the terror attack, identified a number of recommendations already put in place by the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service in order to improve and drive meaningful change within. These changes have been tested during a multi-agency response to many major incidents and in recent years.

“We knew immediately after the Manchester Arena attack that there had been a complete failure in multi-agency working,” suggested Russel. “The Inquiry’s report makes that clear, and this has been a major focus for us since the attack.”

Russel points out that there has been a “substantial shift” in the leadership and culture of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, which has been recognised positively by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services.

“We have undertaken a major overhaul of our policies and procedures in relation to a terrorist incident, duly revising and simplifying our mobilising arrangements, which ensure an automatic response to the scene. A dedicated radio channel is now established, which guarantees immediate contact 24/7 between the blue light services and our Control Rooms. “In addition to this, a national inter-agency liaison officer is now co-located with Greater Manchester Police’s force duty officer during working hours, with a dedicated emergency phone line for all other times.”

On top of that, Russel has pointed to greater investment in training, multi-agency exercising and an increased emphasis on decision-making autonomy, meaning that incident commanders can “confidently” make decisions with discretion.

“Wholesale changes have been made to organisational learning and our debrief processes,” noted Russel, “as well as major improvements in terms of how we communicate and work together with our partner agencies before, during and after incidents in conjunction with North West Fire Control and, importantly, within the wider Greater Manchester Resilience Forum.”

Terrorist attacks

Further, Russel affirmed: “We have established a more resilient ‘Marauding Terrorist Attack’-focused capability for Greater Manchester by increasing our capacity and capability, which sees every firefighter being fully trained and every fire appliance better equipped to respond to all forms of terrorist or mass casualty incident.”

Russel knows full well that, at present, the spotlight is rightly on what the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service did that was wrong on the night of the attack and wants to reiterate his deepest apologies to the families and survivors involved.

“I want the public to know the same mistakes would not be made today. They can have confidence that never again will we fall short of what the public should rightly expect of its Fire and Rescue Service.”

In conclusion, Russel stated: “I hope members of the public will recognise that the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is a very different organisation today to what it was in May 2017, and that the improvements we’ve made – and continue to make – will provide confidence that we are prepared and able to respond to support the people of Greater Manchester when its Fire and Rescue Service is needed.”