Officer in charge of Manchester Arena attack response could face criminal charges

Former Chief Inspector Dale Sexton faces a new investigation over his statements during reviews into the attack, police watchdog reveals

Twenty-two people were killed and hundreds were injured by a suicide attack at Manchester Arena in May 2017. PA
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The officer who led the initial response to the Manchester Arena bombing could face criminal charges over statements he made during reviews into the attack, the police watchdog has said.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct said it will be referring a file of evidence concerning Chief Inspector Dale Sexton's accounts of the night of the bombing to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Sexton, who is now retired, was cleared of breaching standards of professional behaviour or committing a criminal offence after an investigation which concluded in February.

But the police watchdog said on Wednesday that a review conducted following a request from the victims’ families had found an offence “may have been committed” and a file would be passed to the CPS.

Mr Sexton was the force duty officer on the night of the bombing on May 22, 2017, and led the initial response.

Twenty-two people were murdered and more than 1,000 were injured in the suicide attack at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

He denied to the Manchester Arena Inquiry in May 2021 that he was “overwhelmed” by the situation and claimed he made the decision to not tell other emergency service responders he had declared Operation Plato – a planned response to a marauding armed terrorist – as he believed it would hold fire and ambulance crews back.

However, he made no mention of going against protocol and keeping the declaration secret from partner services when interviewed in 2018 as part of the Kerslake Report, an independent review into the emergency response commissioned by mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.

When challenged by the inquiry as to why he had not admitted to going against the protocol earlier, he said he felt like he had “almost got away with it on the night”.

The police watchdog has now upheld a Victims’ Right to Review which was requested by the families of the victims.

A second decision maker, who has no connection to the original investigation, reviewed evidence gathered during the investigation and decided an offence may have been committed.

“The Manchester Arena bombing was a tragedy that had a profound impact right across Greater Manchester and beyond. It will live long in the memories for all the wrong reasons and our thoughts remain with all those affected by this horrific act of violence,” IOPC director of operations Amanda Rowe said.

“This was a complex investigation, carried out independently of police, and investigators obtained a significant amount of information, which was considered as part of our decision-making.

“In cases like this, and in line with other organisations, victims and complainants have a right to have their case reviewed by someone unconnected to the original investigation. In this instance, we determined the matter requires further exploration and will be submitted to the CPS to consider in due course.

“A referral to the CPS does not necessarily mean that criminal charges will be authorised. It will now be for prosecutors to determine whether charges should follow and, if so, what those charges may be.”

Earlier this week, chair of the Inquiry Sir John Saunders warned that progress has been slow on some of the recommendations he had made.

He highlighted two areas of concern for large venues, that of provision of emergency care and the operation of CCTV.

In an open letter, he said the work of the inquiry is almost at an end, but it was important the recommendations he suggested were implemented amid the “on-going problem” that action is taken and advice not forgotten following public inquiries.

Sir John also said his recommendation that all CCTV operators, whether in-house or contractors, be trained and licensed by regulators the Security Industry Authority has not been supported by the Government.

Currently only those who are recruited externally by a business to do this need a licence, while those who are recruited internally do not.

Sir John's first report was issued in June 2021 and highlighted a string of “missed opportunities” to identify suicide bomber Salman Abedi as a threat before he walked across the foyer at the venue and detonated his shrapnel-laden device.

His second report delivered scathing criticism of the emergency services’ response to the bombing, and the third volume, published in March this year, said the attack might have been prevented if MI5 had acted on key intelligence received in the months before the bombing.

Updated: July 06, 2023, 1:58 PM