An ambulance service commander has agreed ‘no leadership’ was provided by him on the night of the Manchester Arena terror attack, an inquiry has heard.
Deputy director at North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) Neil Barnes was the on-call Gold commander, the most senior NWAS officer, on the night suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated explosives at an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017.
The suicide bomber hid for nearly an hour on the upstairs level of the foyer out of sight of CCTV cameras before he detonated his Karrimor rucksack filled with explosives – killing 22 people and inuring 119.
Mr Barnes, who had overall responsibility for ‘command, response and recovery’ in the event of a major incident, chose to stay at home and await more information after taking the first call about an ‘incident’ at the arena, the inquiry heard.
He denied the fact that being on annual leave the next day and him being due to catch a flight out of the country had anything to do with the decision.
The deputy director at North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) Neil Barnes said he chose to stay at home and await more information after taking the first call about an ‘incident’
Salman Abedi (pictured) hid for nearly an hour on the upstairs level of the foyer at Manchester Arena before he detonated his home-made explosives in May 2017
Pictured: Officers outside the Manchester Arena on the night of the terror attack
At 10.40pm on May 22 2017, the night of the attack, Mr Barnes was at home and heard his work phone ringing and took a call from NWAS Silver commander Annemarie Rooney.
He said he was told of a ‘suspected bombing attack’ at the arena and agreed with a decision for Ms Rooney to go to the tactical co-ordinating group established at the headquarters of Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
Mr Barnes said he was awaiting a second call from Ms Rooney and more information before leaving home himself.
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, suggested Mr Barnes was ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’.
Mr Barnes agreed he did not call the emergency operations centre of NWAS or use his radio to listen in on radio traffic to find out what was going on.
Mr Greaney said that by 10.54pm paramedic Paddy Ennis had been into the City Room and reported back a scene of ‘devastation’, with people dead and dying, and NWAS had declared a major incident.
Mr Greaney said: ‘Just sitting at home, waiting for information… does not seem like leadership, let alone strategic leadership.’
Mr Barnes said: ‘I think the process is clear. I don’t get involved as a strategic commander.’
Mr Greaney said: ‘Did the fact you had a flight to catch the next day at midday make any part in your decision to stay at home?’
Mr Barnes replied: ‘None whatsoever.’
The inquiry heard that Mr Barnes then got a call from Steve Taylor, a tactical adviser, telling him a strategic command group would be held at GMP HQ and he needed to attend.
Mr Barnes said he left home at 11.40pm, an hour after the initial call from Ms Rooney.
Mr Greaney said: ‘Given you arrived at 12.30am, you arrived in the command suite two hours after the explosion, 50 minutes after the last living casualty was evacuated from the City Room. In the first two hours after the attack, you provided no leadership?’
Mr Barnes said: ‘I agree sir.’
The public inquiry is looking at all the circumstances of the terror attack in Manchester carried out by Abedi
The suicide bomber (pictured on night of the attack) detonated his large Karrimor rucksack which contained the explosive at 10.31pm
Pictured: Ambulances and police arriving to Manchester Arena following the explosion
Mr Greaney continued: ‘You made no decision that made any difference to the response on the ground?’
Mr Barnes said: ‘I agree sir.’
The hearing was told the ‘whole point’ of Mr Barnes going to GMP HQ was so that strategic Gold commanders from the police and fire service could hold a joint meeting to co-ordinate the response to the attack.
But before this could happen, Mr Barnes had requested to be relieved by another NWAS commander, as he was scheduled to catch a flight the next day, the hearing heard.
Mr Barnes was subsequently awarded the Queen’s Ambulance Service Medal as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2018.
During the terror attack, suicide bomber Salman Abedi waited nearly an hour in the City Room, the foyer outside the venue, before detonating his large Karrimor rucksack which contained the explosive at 10.31pm.
The forensic investigators recovered 1,675 nyloc nuts, 156 flanged nuts, 663 plain nuts and 11 fragments from the deceased, survivors, and crime scene.
It was previously revealed that the Arena bomber who had been studying for a degree in business and management at Salford University, had used his student loan to fund the terrorist attack with the help of his brother.
The inquiry is looking at all the circumstances of the terror attack, carried out by Abedi.
The hearing continues.
The 22 victims of the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017
- Elaine McIver, 43: the off-duty police officer died in the attack, which injured her husband and children;
- Saffie Rose Roussos, 8: the youngest victim was separated from her mother and sister in the seconds after the blast;
- Sorrell Leczkowski, 14: schoolgirl died in the bomb blast, while her mother, Samantha and grandmother Pauline were badly hurt;
- Eilidh MacLeod, 14: confirmed dead having been missing since being caught up in the blast with her friend Laura MacIntyre;
- Nell Jones, 14: farmer’s daughter travelled to the pop concert with her best friend for her 14th birthday;
- Olivia Campbell-Hardy, 15: her family searched desperately for her for nearly 48 hours and went on TV to plead for news;
- Megan Hurley, 15: the Liverpool schoolgirl was with her brother who suffered serious injuries in the blast;
- Georgina Callander, 18: met Ariana Grande backstage at a previous gig and died in hospital with her mother at her bedside;
- Chloe Rutherford, 17, and Liam Curry, 19: couple from South Shields ‘wanted to be together forever and now they are’, their family said;
- Courtney Boyle, 19, and Philip Tron, 32: criminology student and her stepfather were confirmed dead following a Facebook appeal;
- John Atkinson, 26: pop fan from Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, was in a local dance group and was leaving the gig when the blast happened;
- Martyn Hett, 29: public relations manager from Stockport, who was due to start a two-month ‘holiday of a lifetime’ to the US two days later;
- Kelly Brewster, 32: civil servant from Sheffield who died trying to shield her 11-year-old niece from the bombing;
- Marcin Klis, 42, and Angelika Klis, 39: both killed as they waited for their daughters who both survived the blast;
- Michelle Kiss, 45: mother-of-three from Clitheroe, Lancashire, went to the Ariana Grande concert with her daughter;
- Alison Lowe, 44, and friend Lisa Lees, 43: both killed when they arrived to pick up their teenage daughters who were not hurt;
- Wendy Fawell, 50: mother from Leeds was killed by the blast while picking up her children at the Arena with a friend;
- Jane Taylor, 50: mother-of-three from Blackpool was killed as she waited to collect a friend’s daughter from the concert