Emergency services had fears of ‘marauding terrorist’ amid Manchester explosion

The inquiry, which began last September, heard that there had been ‘reports of a shooting’ as well as an explosion.

Manchester Arena incident
Manchester Arena incident

A gunman was initially feared to be on the loose in a “marauding terrorist” attack at Manchester Arena, an inquiry into the bombing has heard.

Audio from emergency services calls made in the minutes following the terror attack has been played as the emergency response is examined.

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi, 22, exploded his rucksack bomb at 10.31pm on May 22 2017, in the City Room or foyer of the Arena, killing 22 bystanders and injuring hundreds more among the 14,000 crowd leaving an Ariana Grande show.

The inquiry, which began last September, heard on Tuesday that there had been “reports of a shooting” as well as an explosion.

Manchester Arena Inquiry
Salman Abedi (Manchester Arena Inquiry/PA)

Among a series of audio clips played to the inquiry was a 12-minute call between North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) and North West Fire Control (NWFC) which began six minutes after the blast.

The ambulance service caller was heard requesting assistance, saying there had been a “bomb threat” at the Arena.

The male caller said during the conversation that he had been informed “we are getting reports of people being shot”.

When pressed for information, he said: “There is reports of a shooting going on as well.”

The woman in fire control confirmed to him that she was logging his reports of a bomb having exploded, 60 casualties and an “active shooter”.

Later in the call the woman said an update had just come through which indicates injuries are shrapnel wounds rather than gunshot wounds.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Detective Inspector Michael Russell of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) helped to outline the sequence of events of the emergency service response.

Addressing him after the 12-minute call was played, counsel to the inquiry Nicholas de la Poer QC said: “If ever there was a time to bear in mind that time is passing it’s for this call, isn’t it?”

Mr Russell replied: “Twelve minutes long, yes.”

Mr de la Poer added: “In fact that call concludes some time after 22.49, and as we’ll see, an awful lot occurs, some of which is being reported in real time, as the various controls learn of new information.”

During internal audio from NWAS at around 10.43pm that night between the control and tactical departments, one person on the call was heard to say: “We’ve got a marauding terrorist incident at Manchester Arena.”

The woman then added that British Transport Police have reports of 50 casualties, “but they have nothing regarding an active shooter so it may be a bomb”.

Manchester Arena incident
Salman Abedi on the night he carried out the Manchester Arena terror attack (GMP/PA)

A few minutes later another short clip of audio confirmed NWAS had declared a major incident.

A call handler could be heard to say: “We’ll call it declared (a major incident) as from now, 22.46.”

The inquiry has heard that, on receiving reports of gunshot injuries and an active gunman, Inspector Dale Sexton, the force duty officer at GMP HQ, declared Operation Plato, believing an armed terrorist was on the loose as part of the bomb attack.

Following an audio clip of that declaration, played on Tuesday, Mr de la Poer put it to Mr Russell that it seemed it is “unmistakably the case that he (Sexton) certainly has in mind the possibility of whether there is more than one person involved”.

Mr Russell replied: “Yes, that’s correct.”

On Monday the inquiry heard that firefighters did not arrive at the arena until two hours after the suicide bombing, only one paramedic entered the blast scene in the first 40 minutes, and GMP did not declare a major incident until the following day.

Manchester Arena incident
Mourners view tributes in St Ann’s Square, Manchester (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Among CCTV stills shown to the inquiry on Tuesday was one of the first ambulances to arrive on scene at 10.58pm, described by Mr de la Poer as a “significant moment”.

At around 11.16pm Inspector Sexton was informed that a report had been made about a possible second attacker, with Mr de la Poer telling the inquiry a report had been made in “good faith” by a member of the public.

Shortly before 11.30pm a GMP radio transmission, played to the hearing, included reference to a possible second suspect who had spoken to police officers and appeared to have been acting in an “unusual way”, Mr de la Poer said.

The declaration of Operation Plato meant Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) kept its firefighters away from the area, as dictated by national guidance in such a scenario.

In audio between NWFC and GMFRS a call handler in the control room was heard explaining that they had not mobilised to the scene “based on the information” they had from police, and instead had mustered at a fire station outside the city centre.

After giving her update, in a call shortly before 11.15pm and lasting around five minutes, she added: “I know it sounds a little bit disorganised at the minute, it’s just been absolute bedlam with the staff we’ve got on duty.”

The man, a group manager at the time with GMFRS, replied: “Sounds like you’re doing OK so far.”

The hearing was adjourned until Wednesday.

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