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Manchester Arena attack police commander ‘like rabbit in headlights,’ inquiry told

·3-min read
Armed police close to the Manchester Arena after the terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert (PA)
Armed police close to the Manchester Arena after the terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert (PA)

The most senior police commander in charge of the response to the Manchester Arena terror attack was described as being “like a rabbit in the headlights,” a public inquiry has seard.

Retired Lancashire Police officer Andrea Bradbury arrived at Greater Manchester Police (GMP) HQ after being slightly injured in the deadly bombing and intending to report to the force what was happening at the Arena.

But Ms Bradbury said she had trouble at the gatehouse then saw a female officer also arriving. “All I had was a woman shoving a warrant card at me and saying, 'I'm gold',” she said.

Assistant Chief Constable Debbie Ford was the gold commander for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) on duty on the night.

She told the public inquiry said she had no recollection of meeting the ex-officer as she arrived at force HQ, 45 minutes after the suicide bombing.

Ms Bradbury, who had served in a counter-terrorism role with Lancashire Police said she "screamed" a report to the officer of "approximately 30 dead" from a single explosion, adding: "she looked like a rabbit in the headlights".

She was then left outside the building and did not get the chance to give a report to officers.

Ms Ford told the inquiry: "I'm not disputing Ms Bradbury's account or recollection but that conversation did not take place with me.

"I would have done something far more than leave her outside. It was just not me she spoke to."

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi murdered 22 bystanders and injured hundreds more in the City Room foyer of the Arena as they left an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May 2017.

Ms Ford, who lived five miles from force HQ, arrived at 11.15pm after making phone calls but was unable to contact the force duty officer (FDO) in the control room as his line was swamped with calls.

At HQ she was not aware that the FDO had declared Operation Plato, a pre-planned response to a marauding terrorist firearms attack, with GMP believing the bombing may be a prelude to a gun attack.

But confusion reigned as GMP had failed to inform the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) or North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), or declare a major incident.

And no rendezvous point was set up by police to meet up with the other 999 services to share information and agree a plan.

The public inquiry has heard of a delayed and sluggish response from fire and ambulance amid confusion about what was going on at the Arena.

Only three paramedics went into the City Room as the dying and injured were evacuated on crash barriers, noticeboards and tables, and the fire service did not arrive at the scene until two hours after the explosion.

Ms Ford said she only became aware GMFRS were not on scene the day after the bombing.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquest, asked Ms Ford, in the first 80 minutes after the bombing, if anything senior officers had done in Silver or Gold command had actually made any difference to what happened on the ground.

The witness replied: "In actual response to, as oppose to things that happened after, probably not, no."

The public inquiry is looking at events before, during and after the attack.

Additional reporting by PA