Skip to main content

Manchester Arena Attack Review

Volume 790: debated on Wednesday 28 March 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement that was made by my right honourable friend in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“The horrific events that took place at the Manchester Arena on 22 May last year were an attack on the people of Manchester. All terrorist attacks are cowardly but this was an appalling attack which deliberately targeted innocent people, many of them young. Twenty-two people were killed and many more injured. As a north-west MP, I feel the pain personally.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester commissioned this independent review following the attack, focusing on the response to the attack and the nine days that followed it. The report rightly highlights the acts of bravery and compassion on the night of 22 May and the following days. As Lord Kerslake noted yesterday, the response was overwhelmingly positive. He said the investments in planning and exercise were demonstrated to the full. We are indebted to the emergency services. He said we should reflect. We keep our preparedness for terrorist attacks under constant review to ensure that our plans reflect best practice and the current threat. Lessons learned from exercising and attacks are also crucial. It is right that all those involved acknowledge where the report has identified the need for improvement. The review is extensive and makes many recommendations. We, and all other agencies concerned, will consider them carefully.

At the centre of the review Lord Kerslake put the experiences of bereaved families, the injured and others directly affected, as indeed they should be. We will ensure that across government the recommendations concerning victims are fully considered. We continue to stand with the people of Manchester as they recover and rebuild following the horrendous attack last year, and our thoughts remain with those who were injured and with the families and friends of those who lost their lives”.

First, we remember all those people who lost their lives in the attack and also those who were injured. I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question in the other place earlier today. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, for his comprehensive report. I too pay tribute to the emergency service workers who acted with courage and skill on that terrible night.

Can the Minister confirm that the Government will be orchestrating a review into national counterterror protocols following the publication of this report? What are the Government going to do about the fact that the national aid mutual telephony system operated by Vodafone failed to cope with the high number of calls on the night in question?

On the national counterterrorist reaction and response, I think the noble Lord will agree that generally the overall response was excellent. There was an issue with the telephony system. Part of that issue was that there was no backup system. That has been thoroughly reviewed and a backup has been put in place. It was not something we would have wished to have happened on such a terrible night. I hope that that sort of issue will never arise again because of the measures we have put in place.

My Lords, I associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. As a senior policer officer, I have been directly involved in the immediate response to terrorist incidents, including the attacks on London on 7 July 2005, and the aftermath is typically chaotic for several hours. Secondary explosive devices and/or marauding gunmen are real possibilities, as we saw in the November 2015 Paris attacks. If either of those alternative scenarios had transpired in this case, the criticism could well have been of the police and the ambulance service for putting their unarmed crews in danger. Does the Minister agree that these are extremely difficult calls to make but that once the decision has been made by the police, who are the lead agency in such situations, that decision needs to be communicated to all the emergency services so as to provide a united response? Can the Minister tell the House who in government is taking responsibility for ensuring that communication between emergency services is effective in these situations?

I pay tribute to the noble Lord and the part that he played in the Metropolitan Police. He must have some incredible experience of such things. He is absolutely right about the immediate aftermath, which is why there are various phased processes for the police and emergency services to go through afterwards. On the terrible possibility of a secondary attack, he is completely right to point out that communication is key, and the joint emergency services interoperability principles come into play. Events such as the 7/7 bombings, through which I am sure the noble Lord was operational, identified the need to improve that joint working between the emergency services. The JESIP, as it is called, was set up to improve how the police, fire and ambulance services work together when responding to those multiagency incidents when they are not specifically CT focused. That was not the case in this instance; it is most relevant in major incidents involving mass fatalities and significant numbers, such as those seen in Manchester and London last year—therefore, providing a key component to the UK’s ability to adequately prepare for a terrorist incident.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response to the Urgent Question. I add my praise to the emergency services and indeed, to the people of Manchester, who responded magnificently to this terrible event. As we say in the report, there is a lot for Manchester to be proud of, but clearly there are some important lessons to learn. They are lessons for Greater Manchester, but they go well beyond that to the country as a whole, and we would all hope that a similar attack does not happen.

At what point will the Minister come back on the eight recommendations we made to the Government? It would be extremely helpful if a letter went directly to the Mayor of Greater Manchester. In particular, will she give her thoughts to the question of mental health service support for those who are injured as a consequence or indeed, for bereaved families? The people who were injured and the families who were bereaved came from across the north of England, not just from Greater Manchester. Does she agree that it is unacceptable that they had a different level of service according to where they lived and that we must have a co-ordinated response?

I thank the noble Lord for his report. I did not quite expect him to be in his place today; I was looking round for him. In terms of aid for victims, which was the first point, it is very important that victims are able to access a range of financial assistance, not least from the incredible efforts of the charitable sector, but also through the criminal injuries compensation scheme. The Ministry of Justice is working closely with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, its executive agency, which administers the scheme to ensure that this process is as smooth as possible. On another note, I thank the local communities who were involved in giving so generously to the charitable efforts in the aftermath of the attack.

My Lords, I am sure that we all want to pay tribute to the emergency service workers on the night—in particular those who carried on caring for victims even though they were being instructed to withdraw from the area because of the risk of supplementary explosions. The issue of communications and the failure on this occasion of Vodafone have been raised already. Will the noble Baroness tell us whether the failure in this instance has meant that the Government will think again about transferring all emergency services communication to the mobile phone network over the next few years?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to again bring up the issue of communication. Certainly moves are afoot to upgrade the mobile phone network but, of course, the police might use underground, which is another possibility. I will keep the House abreast of some of the updates in innovation that are taking place as they come forward.

My Lords, may I invite the Minister to respond to the second question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, on mental health care and a consistent quality of response?

I knew that I had left something out in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. That was, of course, the mental health and other problems that victims may face in the aftermath of an attack and the short-term, medium-term and long-term effects. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, we rapidly put together a cross-government Victims of Terrorism Unit to work closely with Manchester. It identified and resolved issues affecting the provision of an effective and co-ordinated response to victims of terrorism. That runs alongside the work we have done across systems, including in the third sector and the private sector, to improve and strengthen the support that is so vital to victims in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

My Lords, I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks on the emergency services and the response of the community across the whole of Greater Manchester, including in my own borough of Stockport. A good friend of mine spent two very anxious hours outside the arena that night, hoping that he would be able to collect his daughter, and was quite unable to get any of the information that he needed to find that out. In the event, she was safe and well, at least physically, but the failure of that emergency helpline system caused real anxiety to a large number of people at a very difficult time of their lives. I hope that the Minister will understand that and apply as much pressure as she can—or as the Government are able to do—to make sure that this kind of slip-up does not occur in future.

I join the noble Lord in complimenting the response from the community on the night of the attack. I was at the vigil in Albert Square the day after the attack. I also went over to the Islamic centre in Whalley Range, where there were representatives of all faiths from all parts of Greater Manchester and beyond. The feeling of solidarity among all sectors of the community across Greater Manchester was quite incredible. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the lack of communication caused incredible distress to people on the night. I take on board his point and the points of other noble Lords that we must make sure that such an almost elementary failing does not happen again.