Updated: Friday, 18th October 2019 @ 4:23pm

Manchester Arena attack: Kerslake Report slams fire service and Vodafone for severe failures

Manchester Arena attack: Kerslake Report slams fire service and Vodafone for severe failures

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service failed the public during the Manchester Arena attack last year, according to a report published today.

The Kerslake Report – an independent inquiry into the emergency service response to the May 22 terrorist attack which killed 22 people – has revealed that GMFRS played “no meaningful role” in the response after they took over two hours to arrive at the Arena.

Individual firefighters have previously reported that, although they were eager to help, they were held back by senior management. Today’s revelations of bureaucratic conflicts supports these claims.

The Service’s failure has been put down to widespread communication problems within the GMFRS itself and between other emergency services.

The report also raised the following:

  • “the complete failure” of the 0800 emergency helpline provided by Vodafone.
  • a reform of media reporting on tragic events like the Arena bombing, in light of victims’ families being “hounded” by journalists.
  • the inability to track the nearest armed responders due to differing location systems used by police forces, a problem raised seven years earlier in the Cumbria 2010 shootings.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service

The largest finding of the report is the failure of the Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service to respond duly and quickly – it took an overwhelming two hours before they added any assistance to the emergency.

Perhaps more shocking is that GMFRS’ average response time is five minutes, 41 seconds in the months just after the attack.

This incited the panel to ask: “How can it be that a principal first responder failed to arrive on the scene of a major incident for two hours?”

One explanation cited is that in the first hour after the detonation, the North West Fire Control received just three calls related to the incident, only one of which was from a member of the public, by mistake.

Whilst the report said there was no one single problem or individual responsible for GMFRS’ delay, it reported that the issue was rather a “combination of poor communication and poor procedures.”

An anonymous firefighter on service during the attack spoke later to the BBC of the inertia prevalent on the night.

"I don't want people – the public – to think that we didn't want to go or we were scared to go. We were held back by the senior management."

Helpline

The helpline, an emergency system contracted by the Home Office for victims families, was only available for 4.5 hours after the explosion.

This left worried loved ones to frantically search Greater Manchester Hospitals for more information before they could use the helpline at 3am.

The problem in question is that the 0800 number allocated for the Arena attack had been previously used in another incident elsewhere. This phone number still had a pre-recorded voicemail message, relating to the other attack.

Severe technical incompetence and oversubscribed servers meant that no one from Vodafone, nor its subcontractors, could could work out how to delete the message.

The Home Office has since said that “no such failure will occur again in the future."

The Media

Parts of the media were deemed to have acted in a “completely and utterly unacceptable” way when reporting on the attack, after victims’ families told the Panel they were harassed for quotes and information.

Some even said they were subject to “sneaky” attempts from photographers to capture the moment when they were receiving bad news.

The report blasted the media’s “intrusive and overbearing behaviour at a time of such enormous vulnerability.”

The only media organisations praised by the report were the Manchester Evening News and the BBC.

The report is calling for a review of the press standards charter IPSO in light of the universal condemnation of the families’ treatment.

With regards to current press behaviour, the report says: “The Panel feels very strongly that this cannot be as good as it gets.”

Location Services

Sections of the report suggest that lessons had not been learned from previous tragedies.

The Greater Manchester Police uses an Automatic Resource Location System to monitor the movements of their armed responders and armed vehicles. However, “neighbouring police forces do not use the same IT systems, so their personnel and assets could not be tracked on the GMP system.”

This issue had already been identified as a problem following the Derek Bird shootings in Cumbria in 2010, where the police force faced challenges to locate firearms assets.

The Panel stated that this lack of unified tracking ability across the board “could easily have introduced avoidable risks to public and responder safety”, as the Force Duty Officer would not know which was the closest asset to deploy in the case of additional active shooters.

What went well

The review panel were keen to highlight the various successes of the response.

Aside from the “exceptional” civic response from the people of Manchester and their community leaders, the report praised the investment in emergency planning and the “enormous bravery and compassion” of individuals and organisations who acted on the night of the attack.

The removal of the deceased from the Arena was treated with “care and sensitivity."

Support and comfort was provided by family liaison officers and bereavement nurses, described as “invaluable”.

Many of the victims’ families lauded the compassion and care they were given at the Etihad (where a Friends and Family Reception Centre was set up by Manchester City Council) while they waited for news.

However, it was noted that “the strength of the response for support and care for the families directly affected was not always carried through beyond the early period.

"In particular, the need for continuing access to appropriate mental health services was highlighted by the families."