Mobilising miles from scene ‘led to fire crews arriving two hours later’

A decision to send fire appliances three miles away from the scene of the Manchester Arena bombing led to crews arriving more than two hours later, a public inquiry has found.

Station manager Andy Berry rejected the suggestion by a police inspector at the scene of a rendezvous point at Manchester Cathedral car park, near to the Arena.

Instead, firefighters were sent to Philips Park fire station as they awaited further instructions.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders said: “The effect of station manager Berry’s decision to mobilise to Philips Park fire station was that the fire appliances at Manchester Central fire station drove away from, not towards, the incident.

“While driving away from the incident, the Manchester Central fire appliances drove past ambulances travelling in the opposite direction.”

Mr Berry set off from home to Philips Park, but on his 20-mile journey became lost due to traffic diversions, as Sir John said he was “effectively in charge of the GMFRS (Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service) response throughout the entire time he was driving”.

Sir John said other GMFRS senior officers who became involved in the response should have acted more decisively before 11.45pm, when finally someone was appointed in command of the incident.

Mr Berry had assumed at an early stage that GMFRS was responding to marauding terrorists and, while in an “information vacuum”, he overestimated the risk, Sir John’s report into the emergency response found.

Sir John concluded: “There was an apparent unwillingness by other senior officers to intervene as time passed.

“This was a different sort of aversion to risk. It was an aversion not to danger but to stepping outside of their role.

“The unavailability of the FDO (Greater Manchester Police’s force duty officer) played a very significant role.

“Even allowing for this, the response of an entire fire and rescue service should not stall just because one person does not answer the telephone.”

Sir John also highlighted a number of areas in which the response of North West Fire Control (NWFC) was inadequate.

He said: “There was a failure on a number of occasions to offer or provide adequate information or updates to GMFRS officers when speaking to them.

“Most fundamentally, there was a failure by NWFC staff to recognise and act upon the fact that the approach being taken by GMFRS was obviously divergent from the approach NWAS and the police were known to be taking.”