Police 'only did their bit' at terror training exercises, inquiry told

Police ‘did not cover themselves in glory’ at training exercises preparing for a terror attack before the Manchester Arena bombing, public inquiry hears

  • Police did not ‘cover themselves in glory’ in training exercises prior to the attack  
  • Greater Manchester Police only did their ‘bit’ and were not interested in what other services were doing, Fire and Rescue Service chief told the public inquiry
  • John Fletcher, fire service group manager, was questioned about terror drills 
  • Inquiry in Manchester is examining emergency services’ response to incident
  • Salman Abedi killed 22 people in May 2017 when he detonated an explosive 

Police did not ‘cover themselves in glory’ during multiple terror training exercises before the Manchester Arena bombing, the public inquiry into the attack heard.

Instead the police service focused on their ‘bit’ during training in isolation of other emergency services, the hearing was told. 

John Fletcher, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) group manager at the time of the bombing, was questioned about his experience in dealing with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) during training drills for terror attacks, carried out by the emergency services.

The inquiry, sitting in Manchester, is currently looking at the emergency services’ response to the attack and those in charge of preparing for the response to a mass casualty incident.

The hearing was told on Monday that the police were focused on doing their ‘bit’ in isolation, but were not interested in what the other emergency services were doing.

John Fletcher, former Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service group manager

The inquiry is currently examining the emergency services’ response to the Manchester bombing on May 22, 2017

Training exercises dealing with the scenario of a major incident involving a bombing or a marauding terrorist firearms attack, were carried out so that police could practise how to ‘neutralise’ the threat, enabling paramedics, ambulances and the fire service, who have specialist rescue equipment and training, to get to those injured.

But GMP had a ‘lack of understanding’ of the capabilities of the other emergency services, the hearing was told.

In Exercise Winchester Accord, a major drill at the Trafford Centre in May 2016, a GMP inspector had refused to allow North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) and GMFRS access, leading to a delay of 90 minutes on that exercise.

And on the night of the Arena bombing, on May 22, 2017, fire crews did not arrive at the scene until two hours after the attack, and only one paramedic was at the City Room, where the bomb was detonated, for the first 40 minutes after the blast.

The scene outside the Manchester Arena following the bombing on May 22 2017

The inquiry has heard of a lack of communication and some confusion over whether an armed terrorist was on the loose after the bombing, which meant the fire service did not immediately attend the scene.

At an exercise in January 2014, at an ‘iconic’ site in Manchester, which was not disclosed, the police took part but ‘left when they did their bit’, the inquiry heard.

Mr Fletcher said there was disappointment over this and ‘strong words expressed’.

The same thing happened on a second exercise later that year, with GMFRS carrying on without the police to test their own capabilities, Mr Fletcher said.

John Cooper QC, representing a number of the families of those murdered in the attack, said: ‘The common denominator was the police? Whenever there was issues, it was the police?’

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi (pictured) killed 22 people in May 2017 when he detonated an explosive after an Ariana Grande concert

His brother Hashem Abedi, 23,(pictured) also admitted his involvement in planning the Manchester Arena bombing

Mr Fletcher replied: ‘There were issues with the police at times. Yes sir.’

Mr Cooper suggested the failure of police to integrate and be involved with other services was a longstanding problem, dating back to 2001, and an exercise called Trump Card where police failed to share information.

He added: ‘The police have not covered themselves in glory, have they?’

Sir John Saunders, chair of the inquiry, interjected: ‘I will decide that Mr Cooper. We have heard the evidence.’

Mr Cooper asked Mr Fletcher if what happened to the emergency services was a failure of process, leadership or culture.

Mr Fletcher replied: ‘Process, yes sir. I think it was a failure of process and communications.’

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi, 22, exploded his rucksack bomb in the foyer of the Arena, killing 22 people and injuring hundreds more following an Ariana Grande concert.

The inquiry continues.

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