Manchester Arena: Martyn Hett's mother says 'stakes are too high' to delay new law

·4-min read

The "stakes are too high" for the government to delay legislation that would force crowded venues to take security seriously, the mother of a victim of the Manchester bombing has said.

Figen Murray proposed Martyn's Law, after her son Martyn Hett was killed when Salman Abedi detonated a suicide bomb in the City Room foyer in May 2017, along with 21 others.

She successfully campaigned for airport-style security checks to be mandatory at major sporting and entertainment venues under the law, with the government committing to consult on such legislation earlier this year.

Mrs Murray told the inquiry into the bombing this had been shelved due to the coronavirus outbreak, but that the law is needed more than ever after recent attacks in France and Austria.

"The stakes are now pretty high with the terror level lifted to 'severe' and I would really like the government to get on with the consultation and not delay it any further," she said.

"It is just too important to keep the nation safe. Once we are out of COVID-19 we don't know what is going to happen. The stakes are too high."

Mrs Murray said she had 25-minute phone call with home secretary Priti Patel who "expressed her support" but did not explain how the law could be implemented more quickly.

Mrs Murray raised the prospect of increasing radicalisation during lockdown and added: "The government has accepted there is a gap in the risk management of crowded places and supported Martyn's Law.

"They have the intention to launch consultation but COVID got in the way.

"For me, to wait for the consultation to happen is just not feasible.

"If something happens, if we get an attack - I want to almost say when - and the government hasn't acted, and they have accepted there are gaps, and someone is killed, the families of people who die may ask, 'Why hasn't something been done when it was pointed out?' What else can I say really?"

Mrs Murray, whose husband Stuart is a GP, had her attention drawn to the gap in provision when she went to a concert at a theatre in Manchester, 18 months after the attack, and no one searched her bag.

"I cried at one point because we had come up here and sat down and no one checked us. I felt foolish for assuming that security in public areas is a common thing and was shocked that it wasn't," she said.

The inquiry heard there are over 650,000 "crowded places" from entertainment venues to markets and bus stations.

Martyn's Law is designed to make counter-terrorism training freely available, to make sure there are vulnerability assessments of crowded spaces, and to ensure measures are put in place to mitigate any risks.

"That means putting in place basic security procedures so that every venue and public space has a plan.

"Of course, what this would look like will be dependent on the venue and the circumstances," Mrs Murray said.

"It seems absurd to me that we have legislation that sets out how many toilets a venue must have and how food must be prepared, but nothing that holds those same venues responsible for having basic security in place."

She added: "I hope the general public can enjoy a future night at the theatre, concerts, gigs, sports events, or a big event any kind in knowledge they and their loved ones are as safe as possible from terrorist attack.

"While nothing can stop all attacks, a law would make sure prohibited items were not brought into an area where large numbers of people gather."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We remain absolutely committed to delivering a Protect Duty as soon as possible to prevent more families losing loved ones in senseless attacks.

"We have temporarily paused the launch of the consultation in light of the coronavirus outbreak as it is vitally important that businesses are able to meaningfully contribute to the process to ensure we get this right."

In the aftermath of the attack, Mrs Murray had a meeting with John Sharkey, executive vice president for SMG's European operations, as she sought answers to why her son had died.

"He basically explained that the particular area I now know is called the City Room had nothing to do with SMG," Mrs Murray said.

Mr Sharkey apparently described it as a "no-man's land, a short-cut, a thoroughfare for people to cut through" used by car park users and rail passengers as well as arena visitors.