Martyn Hett was one of the 22 people murdered in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. He had gone for a night out and never came home.
Martyn’s mother, Figen Murray, is now campaigning for concert venues, theatres and other places where large numbers visit to have more stringent security checks. She tells of the shock on visiting a theatre a year later to see bags going unchecked and says, “It felt as if what happened in Manchester on that fateful night had been forgotten.”
Along with Survivors Against Terror, Ms Murray is pressing for what has become called ‘Martyn’s Law’. This would require public venues to assess the risk of a terrorist attack and to have put in place appropriate measures to protect people.
Today in the House of Lords, I will ask the Home Office Minister what consideration the government has given to such legislation. When first raised, it was met with official resistance – on the grounds that for all venues to have a counter-terror plan would impose extra costs on the businesses concerned. But last month, Ms Murray met Security Minister Brandon Lewis, and The Manchester Evening News has reported a softening of the reluctance.
We expect the places we visit to abide by health and safety regulations and have adequate fire precautions. It is surely not unreasonable to expect them to take protection measures against terrorist violence?
Concert halls, theatres and other venues must – by law – take fire precautions; as well as meeting other regulatory requirements. It seems extraordinary therefore, that there is currently no obligation on them to take advice on reducing the risk of a terrorist attack and take sensible precautions. In some instances, bag checks may be enough. In others, hand-held metal detectors or knife arches may be more appropriate. Similar rules should also apply to sports stadiums, large shops and shopping malls.
I looked at this three years ago when Sadiq Khan asked me to report on London’s Preparedness to Respond to a Major Terrorist Incident. One of my recommendations was that, as a condition of licensing, venues should have to be reviewed by a Police Counter Terrorism Security Advisor and to have taken the necessary action as a result of that review. So far, the government has refused to agree to this.
Also concerning was how few schools and educational establishments had thought about their response, should they ever come under attack. They all had fire evacuation procedures, but in the event of an attack would also need to have lock-down plans and be prepared to ‘invacuate’ (rather than evacuate).
Similarly, most places of worship seemed to operate on the basis that an attack would not happen to them. But they too need to plan and take sensible precautions, having been the subject of attacks in Europe and elsewhere.
We expect the places we visit to abide by health and safety regulations and have adequate fire precautions. It is surely not unreasonable to expect them to take protection measures against terrorist violence? And it would be a fitting memorial to Martyn Hett and the others who died in the Arena bombing if the Home Office was now prepared to legislate accordingly.
Lord Toby Harris of Haringey is Chair of the Labour Peers Group and a member of the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy. He tweets @LordTobySays