Manchester Police Was Warned About Terror Response Deficiencies Six Months Before Attack

TOPSHOT - Messages and floral tributes are seen in Albert Square in Manchester, northwest England on May 23, 2017, in solidarity with those killed and injured in the May 22 terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena. Twenty two people have been killed and dozens injured …
BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

Greater Manchester Police was alerted six months before the Manchester Arena suicide bombing to the deficiencies in its terror attack response plans, the public inquiry into the Islamist attack has heard.

The ongoing inquiry heard on Monday that the police inspectorate handed a “hot brief” to GMP’s then Assistant Chief Constable Catherine Hankinson, the force’s lead on counter-terrorism, in November 2016 when the UK’s threat level was at its highest, severe.

The report, part of a national review, had said that GMP had put too much responsibility on its force duty officers (FDO) to lead when responding to a terror attack involving armed terrorists and they could become overwhelmed, according to The Guardian.

In it, several FDOs were reported to have said they “felt ill-equipped” to deal with a terrorism incident and wanted more training.

One unnamed officer was recorded as saying: “I get two days on how to command vehicle pursuit and approximately one to two hours in MTFA [marauding terrorist firearms incident].”

“There is no question that the FDO is being overloaded with tasks in the initial stages of a potential [Operation Plato] and will require urgent help,” the report had said.

Operation Plato designates areas where only trained firearms officers could go during a marauding terror attack.

The details of how the force would have failed in its response to an armed terrorist incident are pertinent to the review on the suicide attack, because following initial, erroneous, reports of gunshot victims on the night of May 22nd, 2017, Manchester police had mistakenly believed the suicide bombing was a shooting and that there was an active terrorist gunman on scene.

As a result, force duty officer Inspector Dale Sexton triggered Operation Plato. As well as setting out the rules for sending in tactical armed officers, Operation Plato also determined when emergency services could enter the building. The enquiry heard that there was only one paramedic in the foyer for the first 40 minutes after the terror blast, with the first firetruck arriving more than two hours later.

Policing experts claimed that that the FDO had become overwhelmed when put in charge of what he thought was a shooting terror attack, but what was soon revealed to be a suicide bombing. The son of Libyan refugees Salman Abedi detonated his backpack bomb stuffed with explosives and shrapnel with the intention of killing as many of the mostly women, young girls, and families as possible at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena. The Islamist terror attack claimed the lives of 22, the youngest just eight years old, and injured hundreds of others.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services’ associate inspector, Andrew Buchan, told the inquiry that GMP had placed too much of a burden of responsibility on its FDOs to lead in the event of a terror attack.

The report also found a general lack of knowledge of terror response plans amongst its unarmed officers and control room staff, many saying they would not have known what to do in the event of an attack.

Months of the ongoing inquiry in Manchester has shown massive failures by all branches of authority, including MI5 which was aware than Abedi, who had been on the Security Service’s radar since 2010, was in contact with known extremists leading up to the terror attack but did not act upon the intelligence.

There were also failings by British Transport Police and the Community Support Officers unit on the night of the attack, including holes in staffing and surveilling of the building and environs, leading to Abedi entering the building without being searched despite carrying a suspicious-looking backpack into a concert hall.

While the venue’s security guards brushed off members of the public’s concerns over the strange behaviour of Abedi — who at one point was seen praying in the foyer — for fear of being considered a “racist”.

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