Manchester’s fire service took more than two hours to respond to the bomb attack on the city’s arena, a report has found.
An independent panel report into the bombing, which killed 22 people and injured more than 100, said Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service “played no meaningful role” in the two hours after the explosion.
Chaired by Lord Bob Kerslake, the panel was commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, to assess the city’s response to the attack on 22 May last year.
Even though police, arena staff and even the military were on the scene within minutes, the fire service did not respond until after midnight, the report said.
The bomb went off just after 10.30pm.
The report blamed the delayed reaction on “poor communication and poor procedures” and said the fire service was “effectively outside the loop” on the night.
Fire crews were eager to get to the scene but were restricted by the procedure that was in place due to uncertainty over what kind of incident had occurred.
The report highlighted the following major issues with the fire service and other aspects of the emergency response:
:: Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) played no meaningful role in the response for two hours
:: GMFRS must reflect on aspects of its culture that meant it failed to respond properly
:: A Vodafone telephone system set up for relatives “completely” failed
:: The panel was shocked and dismayed by the media treatment of some families
:: The Police Gold Commander and the Force Duty Officer were required to perform “testing” multiple duties
:: The subsequent care provided for families was not always carried forward
The report said: “The fire service was effectively ‘outside the loop’, having no presence at the rendezvous point established by the police, little awareness of what was happening at the arena and only a very limited belated presence at Strategic Gold Control.
“The reasons for the failure of GMFRS to respond adequately to the attack are set out in full in our report.
“There is not one single reason nor one individual that caused this failure. Rather, it was a combination of poor communication and poor procedures.
“GMFRS will need to reflect on the wider issues it raises for their operational culture and approach to multi-agency working.”
More than 14,000 people were attending an Ariana Grande pop concert at the Manchester Arena when Salman Abedi detonated an improvised explosive device in the foyer.
The attack was the deadliest in the UK since the London bombings on 7 July 2005.
The report said the Greater Manchester Police force duty officer on the night was right to declare Operation Plato at 10.47pm – a codename which triggers an armed police response to a possible attacker with a gun.
But the report said this was not sufficiently well communicated to other emergency services, including the fire service.
Firefighters, some who heard the bomb go off, and trained in first aid and terror scenarios with specialist equipment, did not get permission to go to the scene until hours after the suicide bombing, despite the nearest station being half a mile away.
This was due to “strategic oversights” and poor communications between Greater Manchester Police and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.
There was confusion in the chain of command as to how to respond and mixed messages about whether it was bomb, explosion or a marauding terror attack. This led to significant delays, the report added.
Firefighters on the ground showed “immense frustration” after being told they did not have clearance to deploy to the arena area.
The panel also concluded that the first meeting of senior members of the response “Gold” team should have been called earlier than 4.15am.
To add to the confusion, there was a “complete failure” of the National Mutual Aid Telephony System, a mobile phone network provided by Vodafone, which should have acted as a back up network but instead collapsed.
It meant a telephone line for relatives to check on loved ones could not be set up and this meant families caught up in the attack were unable to communicate, the report said.
The panel said it was was “shocked and dismayed” by accounts of the families of their experiences with some media outlets in the days and weeks after the attack.
Some families spoke of being “hounded”, of a “lack of respect” and of “sneaky” attempts to take photos when families were receiving bad news, the report said.
There were some areas of success, the report said – a sign of recent investment in multi-agency planning.