NO ONE should ever lose sight of the fact, as the report into the Manchester Arena terror attack is disseminated, that the only person to blame for this appalling atrocity is suicide bomber Salman Abedi whose explosive device left 22 people dead, and scores injured, after thousands of youngsters had attended an Ariana Grande concert.
This should be the starting point to any objective analysis about the inquiry commissioned by Greater Manchester’s newly-elected mayor Andy Burnham, and undertaken by Lord Bob Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service and one-time chief executive of Sheffield Council, into the response of the emergency services on the tragic night in question.
Though there is understandably alarm – and distress – that police and ambulance chiefs did not call upon the expertise of firefighters for two hours and six minutes, the context is, again, critical. There would almost certainly have been more innocent lives lost, and more people left with life-changing injuries, if it wasn’t for the brilliance of medical teams on the ground – and the world-class treatment that victims received from nearby NHS hospitals.
No contingency exercises can adequately prepare first responders for the chaos, confusion, panic and bloodshed that confronted them on May 22 last year. And, while it was remiss of decision-makers not to immediately utilise the first-aid skills of firefighters who, in the true spirit of their profession, were only too willing to run towards trouble as others ran away from the blast scene amid fears of follow-up explosions, there was also a need to keep roads open for ambulances rushing the injured to hospital.
This issue of communication clearly needs to be considered by emergency services across the country – but the abiding hope is that these are lessons that don’t ever have to be put into practice.