Manchester bombing: Training exercise showed up police and fire service failings, inquiry told

September 09, 2020

Lessons were not learned from a training exercise which had raised "serious concerns" about how the fire service and police worked together before the Manchester Arena bombing, a public inquiry has heard.

An exercise called Winchester Accord was held in May 2016 at the Trafford shopping complex and showed up failings which mirrored the night of the attack.

Around 14,000 fans were at the Manchester Arena for the Ariana Grande concert when Salman Abedi, 22, detonated his homemade bomb, killing 22 and injuring hundreds of others on 22 May 2017.

Experts said the fire service had an "inadequate and ineffective" response to the incident, the hearing was told.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry into the tragedy, said the training exercise in 2016 "raised serious concerns about the interaction between police commanders and their communications with other responding emergency services".

It had led to "significant delays" in the deployment of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) and North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) resources to the scene of the bombing.

It also identified communication concerns in the early phases of an incident, including where it was safe to set up a rendezvous point.

On the night, the fire service decided to "muster" at their fire station in Philips Park, three miles from the scene, and did not arrive at the venue until two hours and six minutes after the explosion, by which time all the casualties had been evacuated.

Experts commissioned by the inquiry said the "learning points" of the Winchester Accord exercise "do not appear to have been rectified immediately by GMFRS".

They added: "Indeed, rather than being clarified and resolved, they appear to have led to negative expectation on the part of GMFRS officers as to what to expect" from police in the event of a terrorist firearms attack, which the exercise had replicated.

Mr Greaney said the inquiry "will need to explore whether that is as disturbing as it seems".

He added: "Whether lessons were learned from exercises is an important issue for the inquiry to explore."

The experts said the response of the fire service in the first two hours after the attack was "inadequate and ineffective".

GMFRS staff did not test and question the information they were receiving and this led to "poor decision-making".

A "systemic failure" was caused by choosing a "distant and detached" rendezvous point and the discounting of other options.

There was also an "absence of strategic direction and operational grip" because no one took on important roles while a station manager was travelling from his home to the rendezvous point.

The effect was that the fire and rescue service was "unable to render assistance to casualties or take part in joint working," the experts said.

It also meant that specialist resources, including units with enhanced first aid equipment, were not deployed to the scene.

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