The British Transport Police (BTP) has accepted there were ‘serious failings’ in its response to the Manchester Arena terrorist attack which left 22 dead and hundreds injured.
The force failed to share vital information with other emergency services in the immediate aftermath of the explosion at an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017, an inquiry heard Friday.
Assistant Chief Constable Sean O’Callaghan said a declaration of a major incident was not passed on to other services and neither was an officer’s communication, known as a METHANE message, which provides details of the scene.
Mr O’Callaghan, who was not on the force at the time of the bombing, also accepted that there was a failure of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (Jesip) on the night of the attack.
Counsel to the inquiry Paul Greaney said: ‘BTP did not, at least at any relevant time, co-locate at command level, they did not communicate effectively, nor did they co-ordinate.
Assistant Chief Constable Sean O’Callaghan (pictured at the inquiry Friday) said a declaration of a major incident was not passed on to other services
The scene close to Manchester Arena following the terror attack after an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017
‘In the result, they didn’t jointly understand the risk with emergency service partners and they did not share situational awareness?’ – to which Mr O’Callaghan agreed.
He added that the ‘critical pieces of information’ were ‘vital’ to enable other emergency services to gain situational awareness.
Asked if he recognised these were serious failures, Mr O’Callaghan said: ‘Yes, that is correct and a number of changes made have been put in place to address those.’
He said improvements made since 2017 included the training given to officers and the force’s emergency plans.
The inquiry heard how in the two years leading up to the attack, representatives from BTP were only present at three of nine local resilience forum meetings for the area, which were designed to train public services for emergencies.
On the occasions they were present, the meetings were only attended by BTP inspectors or chief inspectors, the hearing was told.
Asked whether that was an unacceptable level of engagement, Mr O’Callaghan said: ‘It’s certainly not of the standard I have now put in place.’
He said the meetings were now attended by officers of superintendent or detective chief inspector rank.
He also told the inquiry the force had invested in explosive search dogs, with seven now based in the Manchester area, after their canine officer Mojo was the first on the scene at 11.44pm.
He agreed that further changes were necessary within the force following information revealed during the inquiry and said he would provide a statement on what additional changes would take place.
Before questioning Mr O’Callaghan on what went wrong for the force on the night, Mr Greaney told the inquiry there were a number of BTP officers who responded ‘swiftly and bravely’ within seconds of the explosion.
It comes after a control room operator told the inquiry on Tuesday that she failed to record or pass on pieces of ‘significant information’ in the aftermath of the bombing.
Rochelle Fallon was working in the control room of North West Fire Control (NWFC) on the night of the terror attack in May 2017, and fielded numerous calls.
The public inquiry had heard that fire crews did not attend the scene for more than two hours as they awaited further details of the incident.
Firefighters with specialist equipment were instructed to gather three miles from the scene, as members of the public, police and Arena staff moved casualties from the blast scene at the City Room foyer.
On Monday Ms Fallon’s boss, Sarah-Jane Wilson, told the hearing that failures from NWFC in passing key information to fire officers contributed to the lengthy delay in crews arriving.
Pictured: Hashem Abedi, 23, admitted his role in the deadly attack which killed 22 people
Within the first half hour after the explosion, among calls logged by NWFC was that police officers were arriving, ambulances were en route and a paramedic incident commander was on site.
Ten minutes after the blast Ms Fallon was told by a Greater Manchester Police (GMP) call operator that a rendezvous point for emergency services outside Manchester Cathedral car park had been nominated with supervisors and officers attending.
Asked why she had failed to log that information, Ms Fallon said: ‘It just must not have registered.’
She agreed with Nick de la Poer QC, counsel to the inquiry, that it was ‘significant information’.
By 11.10pm, when a senior fire officer called for an update, the log contained information that ambulances had been directed to the booking office and a paramedic incident commander was on scene, but Ms Fallon did not mention that on the call.
She told the hearing it was ‘easy to miss’ such updates because of the small nature of the screen, the time it could take to upload when refreshing and also navigating ‘system-generated nonsense’.
The 22 victims of the terror attack during the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in May 2017. (top row left to right) Off-duty police officer Elaine McIver, 43, Saffie Roussos, 8, Sorrell Leczkowski, 14, Eilidh MacLeod, 14, (second row left to right) Nell Jones, 14, Olivia Campbell-Hardy, 15, Megan Hurley, 15, Georgina Callander, 18, (third row left to right), Chloe Rutherford,17, Liam Curry, 19, Courtney Boyle, 19, and Philip Tron, 32, (fourth row left to right) John Atkinson, 26, Martyn Hett, 29, Kelly Brewster, 32, Angelika Klis, 39, (fifth row left to right) Marcin Klis, 42, Michelle Kiss, 45, Alison Howe, 45, and Lisa Lees, 43 (fifth row left to right) Wendy Fawell, 50 and Jane Tweddle, 51
But she added: ‘I should have given him that information and I haven’t. I’m not going to blame the system for that. The information was there if I had taken the time to read through it.’
Ms Fallon told the inquiry that before the attack she had not received any scenario-based training.
She said: ‘I think the only way to really learn the job of a control room operator is to actually do it, and to experience different incident types and work through them.
‘If we had had some practical training I think that probably would have been much, much better.’
The inquiry into the attack was adjourned for a summer break and will resume on September 6.
Mr Greaney said in September the inquiry would hear more on the topic of the emergency response, before evidence about the experiences of each of those who died.
The hearing will then move on to the topics of radicalisation and preventability, some of which will be heard in closed sessions.