Man 'could have survived' Manchester Arena bombing but for emergency services' failures

Terrorist attack killed 22 people and injured more than 1,000

The second report into the Manchester Arena terror attack has been published. PA
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One of the 22 people murdered in the Manchester Arena suicide bombing would probably have survived but for inadequacies in the emergency response.

A report into the Manchester Arena terror attack has criticised the emergency response following the bombing.

Care worker John Atkinson, 28, was six metres away when the explosion went off in the City Room foyer of the venue at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on the evening of May 22, 2017.

A member of the public used his wife’s belt as a tourniquet on Mr Atkinson’s leg as he lay bleeding in agony on the City Room floor for up to 50 minutes, during which time he told a police officer: “I’m gonna die.”

Only three paramedics entered the City Room on the night and none were seen to attend or assist Mr Atkinson, before he was carried on a makeshift stretcher to a casualty clearing area where he later suffered a cardiac arrest — one hour and 16 minutes after the blast.

On Thursday, Manchester Arena Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders delivered a scathing report on the response of the emergency services.

“Significant aspects of the emergency response on 22nd May 2017 went wrong. This should not have happened,” he said.

“Some of what went wrong had serious and, in the case of John Atkinson, fatal consequences for those directly affected by the explosion.”

Evidence into the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the atrocity was heard in the city between September 2020 and February of this year.

The hearings began and ended with a minute’s silence to remember those who died: John Atkinson, 28; Courtney Boyle, 19; Kelly Brewster, 32; Georgina Callander, 18; Olivia Campbell-Hardy, 15; Chloe Rutherford, 17; Liam Curry, 19; Wendy Fawell, 50; Martyn Hett, 29; Megan Hurley, 15; Alison Howe, 44; Nell Jones, 14; Michelle Kiss, 45; Angelika Klis, 39; Marcin Klis, 42; Sorrell Leczkowski, 14; Lisa Lees, 43; Eilidh MacLeod, 14; Elaine McIver, 43; Saffie-Rose Roussos, aged eight; Philip Tron, 32; and Jane Tweddle, 51.

Their photographs were displayed in the hearing room at Manchester Magistrates’ Court at the start of the public inquiry as their final movements were outlined and where they were when Salman Abedi, 22, detonated his bomb in the City Room foyer, the extent of the medical treatment given and the details of their injuries.

Twenty-two people were killed and hundreds more were injured in a suicide attack at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017. PA

Sir John said it was “highly unlikely” the bombing’s youngest victim, 8-year-old Saffie-Rose Roussos, would have survived her injuries with “only a remote possibility she could have survived with different treatment and care.”

Nicola Brook, a solicitor from Broudie Jackson Canter who represents five Manchester Arena victims’ families, including the family of Saffie-Rose Roussos, described the report as “damning”.

“This damning report reveals what the families knew all along, that all the organisations meant to protect their loved ones failed on an enormous and unfathomable scale,” she said.

“To compound the families’ pain, they were then forced to listen to denials, excuses and finger-pointing rather than admissions of the terrible mistakes made.

“So much distress could have been spared had Greater Manchester Police admitted its glaring failures from the start.”

The initial command of the incident was taken by Greater Manchester Police’s force duty officer, Inspector Dale Sexton, but he “quickly became overburdened by the number of tasks he had to undertake”, the report found.

“This had a direct impact on the effectiveness of the emergency response. It affected who received information, what resources were made available and the decisions of other commanders,” Sir John said.

Following erroneous reports of gunshots, Inspector Sexton declared Operation Plato — a pre-arranged plan for a suspected marauding terrorist — but he “overlooked” telling other emergency services.

“It affected the ability of the emergency services to work together by jointly understanding the risks,” said Sir John.

“In the first quarter of an hour after the attack and thereafter, there was substantial confusion over the location of an RVP [rendezvous point]. Each emergency service chose its own.”

Chief Constable for Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson, admitted on Thursday that the communication between emergency services was “poor” and “apologised unreservedly” for their response to the Manchester Arena suicide bombing.

Fire crews took more than two hours to even attend the incident after station manager Andy Berry chose to mobilise resources three miles from the Arena amid fears over safety.

“The effect … was that the fire appliances at Manchester Central Fire Station drove away from, not towards, the incident. While driving away, the Manchester Central fire appliances drove past ambulances travelling in the opposite direction,” Sir John said.

Salman Abedi on the night he carried out the Manchester Arena terror attack on May 22, 2017, killing 22 people.  PA

He said that North-West Ambulance Service operational commander Dan Smith made an “error” in not sending ambulances to meet at Manchester Central Fire Station.

Mr Smith also wrongly believed non-specialist paramedics should not be sent into the City Room.

By 10.50pm the City Room was a “cold zone”, said Sir John, where it was assessed there was no immediate threat to life from an armed terrorist.

He said that did not mean the City Room was entirely safe but a police chief had deemed it “safe enough” for non-specialist emergency responders and members of the public.

“Not only should this have been the view across the emergency services, based on the available information, but it was in fact correct, as is now known for certain,” he said.

As the post-attack “golden hour” ended, the emergency response had failed to achieve effective evacuation.

Just after midnight there were still 36 casualties waiting to go to hospital, with the last casualty departing at 2.50am on May 23.

“To those who experienced it, this period of time will have seemed interminable. It must not happen again,” he said.

He said the evidence was “conclusive” there was no possibility that 20 of the 22 victims could have survived the “murderous actions” of Abedi.

“In the case of John Atkinson, his injuries were survivable. Had he received the care and treatment he should have, it is likely he would have survived. It is likely that inadequacies in the emergency response prevented his survival,” Sir John said.

He said Mr Atkinson would probably have survived if an “intervention sufficient to slow substantially or stop bleeding” had been undertaken up to 45 minutes after the blast

Lawyers for 8-year-old Saffie-Rose Roussos had submitted during the inquiry that her injuries were potentially survivable.

However, Sir John concluded: “In the case of Saffie-Rose Roussos, it is highly unlikely that she could have survived her injuries. There was only a remote possibility she could have survived with different treatment and care.

“I do not consider that the evidence enables me to say she had absolutely no chance of survival if the most comprehensive and advanced medical treatment had been initiated immediately after injury.

“I make clear what I am postulating is a remote possibility of survival. On the evidence that I have accepted, what happened to Saffie-Rose Roussos represents a terrible burden of injury. It is highly likely her death was inevitable even if the most comprehensive and advanced medical treatment had been initiated immediately after injury.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she will consider his recommendations.

“Without doubt, our emergency services show incredible courage when responding to incidents of this magnitude. It’s right that we reflect and work together to learn from this tragedy. I will carefully consider the recommendations made so far to strengthen our response,” she said.

Sir John’s first report on security issues at the Arena was issued last June and highlighted a string of “missed opportunities” to identify Abedi as a threat before he walked across the City Room and detonated his shrapnel-laden device.

The third and final report will focus on the radicalisation of Abedi and what the intelligence services and counter-terrorism police knew, and if they could have prevented the attack. It will be published at a later date.

Updated: November 03, 2022, 4:22 PM