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UK Inquiry Finds ‘Significant Failures’ in Response to Bombing at 2017 Ariana Grande Concert

A suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured more than 800 at the show at Manchester Arena in the terror attack.

LONDON — One of the 22 people killed in a suicide bomb attack outside an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in 2017 would probably have survived had it not been for “significant failures” by the emergency services responding to the atrocity, a public inquiry has found.  

John Atkinson, 28, died on May 22, 2017, when bomber Salman Abedi detonated a home-made explosive device in the foyer of Manchester Arena (now known as the AO Arena) at the end of a Grande’s sold-out showMore than 800 people were injured in the terror attack, many of them children.

An 884-page report detailing the emergency services response to the attack, published on Tuesday (Nov. 3), found that Atkinson, a caregiver for adults with autism, could have survived the attack “if given prompt and expert medical treatment.”  

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Instead, Atkinson, who was standing only six meters (nearly 20 feet) away from the bomber when he detonated his device at 10:31pm U.K. time, suffered severe injuries to his legs. He had to wait 47 minutes before he was treated by paramedics and then went into cardiac arrest and died on the way to the hospital. 

“It is likely that inadequacies in the emergency response prevented his survival,” the report concluded.  

The report is the second of three being produced by the public inquiry from the U.K. Home Secretary, which began in 2019.

The chair of the inquiry, John Saunders, said many things went “badly wrong” in how the emergency services responded to the attack, including “significant failings by a number of organizations in preparation and training” for such an emergency. On the night of the bombing, the national terror threat level in the U.K. was severe, meaning an attack was highly likely. 

While praising the heroism of the first responders and citizens on the scene, Saunders identified “very significant” failures by Greater Manchester Police and an “unduly risk-averse” approach from the fire service. He also cited substantial problems with how the North West Ambulance Service handled the emergency, as well as serious failings by British Transport Police.     

“Some of what went wrong had serious and, in the case of John Atkinson, fatal consequences for those directly affected by the explosion,” said Saunders. He concluded that none of the other 20 victims could have survived their injuries from the explosion and “inadequacies in the [emergency service] response did not fail to prevent their deaths.” 

The report is highly critical of Greater Manchester Police for failing to declare a major incident in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. Two of the department’s most senior officers were on duty that night but made “no effective contribution to the emergency response.”  

There was “non-existent” communication between emergency service senior offices and “individual failures” that further undermined the joint response, the report stated.

Only three paramedics entered the arena’s foyer to help the injured following the explosion. Fire officers took more than two hours to arrive at the scene after senior officers wrongly believed they were attending a marauding terror attack and it was not safe to send in firefighters – a delay that Saunders said was “serious and unacceptable.” Their presence would have resulted “in the safer and faster extraction of the severely injured” to another location where they could receive proper clinical care, he said.

The inquiry also found that there was a “remote possibility” that eight-year-old Saffie‐Rose Roussos — the youngest victim of the attack — could have been saved “with different treatment and care.” Roussos drifted in and out of consciousness for 26 minutes after the bomb blast and was able to give her name to the first member of the public who helped her, but no tourniquets or leg splints were applied to her injuries.  

She was subsequently carried out of the foyer and taken to a hospital, where trauma doctors were unable to save her.    

Following the report’s publication, David Russel, chief fire officer for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, apologized for what he called a “wholly inadequate and totally ineffective” response that “will forever be a matter of deep regret.”  

In all, the report makes 149 recommendations, including requiring first aid training for all police officers and firefighters and more regulation and enforcement to improve the standard of healthcare services at public venues.  

The public inquiry’s first report into the terror attack, published last June, looked at whether police and security should have done more to prevent the bombing. It found that arena operators SMG, security company Showsec and the British Transport Police, who were responsible for policing the area where the bomb exploded, were “principally responsible” for missed opportunities to prevent or minimize the “devastating impact of the attack.” 

The third and final report will focus on the radicalization of Salman Abedi and what intelligence services knew about him and his family. The bomber’s brother Hashem Abedi was sentenced in 2020 to a minimum of 55 years for his part in the bombing.

“Nothing will ease the pain of the families of those killed during the cowardly terrorist attack at Manchester Arena,” U.K. prime minister Rishi Sunak said on Twitter on Tuesday after the report’s release. “It is my solemn commitment to the victims, survivors and their loved ones that we will learn from the lessons of this inquiry.”