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The Manchester Arena Inquiry has now concluded. The closure notice from the Inquiry Chairman is available here.

Volume 1: Security for the Arena
Volume 1: Security for the Arena (large format)

Background to 22nd May 2017

Operational plan for deployment to events

BTP Inspector Michelle Wedderburn was the Police Inspector responsible for overseeing the BTP policing of railway stations in parts of Greater Manchester, including Manchester Victoria, for the period March 2009 to October 2016 and April 2017 to September 2017. In the intervening period she was seconded to the Operations Department.693 As part of her responsibility for Manchester Victoria, Inspector Wedderburn attended the bi-annual multi-agency meetings at which forthcoming events at the Arena were discussed.694 Inspector Wedderburn also received information from SMG relating to events. The focus of that information was what might disrupt particular events, such as a risk of disorder or whether an event was likely to be the target of thieves.695 It was Inspector Wedderburn’s responsibility to ensure that sufficient officers were deployed to police events at the Arena in May 2017.696

Inspector Wedderburn gave evidence about a document entitled “Tactical Report – Phones 4U Arena” (the 2014 Tactical Report).697 Phones 4U Arena was a previous name of the Arena. This document is undated, but was created by PC Peter Wood in approximately June 2014.698 As is plain from the introductory paragraph, the document provides BTP planners and operational commanders with an overview of policing at the Arena. It states that it should be “treated as advice”.699 It refers to the “Current threat level” as being one of three criteria relevant to the “policing numbers and style”. In June 2014, the terrorist threat level was “Substantial”, meaning an attack is likely, and a level lower than it was in May 2017.

There is no evidence that the 2014 Tactical Report had been withdrawn prior to it being updated in September 2017.700 However, Inspector Wedderburn was not aware of the 2014 Tactical Report before 22nd May 2017701 and the update was as a result of its existence having been identified after the Attack.702 I consider this to be a matter for concern as it means that Inspector Wedderburn was planning deployments to events at the Arena without reference to this or any similar document.

Inspector Wedderburn agreed that the 2014 Tactical Report contained helpful information and was the product of careful thought. However, she stressed that the author did not know the Arena and had never worked there.703 For that reason, she considered that the content was of less use to someone in her position, who did have such personal knowledge.

The 2014 Tactical Report recommends that for “high” ticket-sale events one sergeant, four constables and two PCSOs should be deployed to the Victoria Exchange Complex. The Ariana Grande concert fitted the description of a “high” ticket-sale event,704 but Inspector Wedderburn stated that the refurbishment in 2014 meant that in May 2017 fewer officers were required than recommended.705

The refurbishment of the Victoria Exchange Complex required careful reconsideration of policing numbers and a wholesale review of the 2014 Tactical Report.706 This should have taken place before the reopening in 2015. This did not happen because Inspector Wedderburn did not know about it. Inspector Wedderburn should have known about the 2014 Tactical Report.707

Those responsible for briefing the officers who were deployed should have been aware of and worked to a written plan. Sergeant Gareth Wilson, who conducted the briefing on 22nd May 2017, did not know about the 2014 Tactical Report.708 Additionally, if the existing plan for policing the Arena was deficient, as Inspector Wedderburn asserted it was by reason of the author’s lack of direct experience of working at the Victoria Exchange Complex, that too should have been taken into account and corrected long before the Attack.

Had Inspector Wedderburn identified the importance of working to a plan, either the 2014 Tactical Report would have come to her attention and been considered by her or, alternatively, a fresh plan would have been created.

The effect of Inspector Wedderburn not knowing about the 2014 Tactical Report was that officers were not being deployed to police events on the basis of any document or plan that specifically considered the particular risks to people attending events at, and the demands of, the Arena. Those risks included the threat from terrorism to event-goers. Since the Attack, BTP has created a generic security plan for events at the Arena.709 The importance of working to such a document should have been obvious to BTP before the Attack.

Inspector Wedderburn and a colleague attended Exercise Sherman in July 2016, the multi-agency exercise which involved a terrorist attack scenario in the City Room.710 This, as Inspector Wedderburn accepted, should have resulted in a review by BTP of the policing of events at the Arena.711 There was no review. Such a review was likely to have highlighted the fact that events, at that time, were not being policed in accordance with any written plan.

The discipline of creating, updating and working to a written plan is likely to have uncovered further deficiencies in BTP’s approach to policing events at the Arena. It would have provided an opportunity to reflect upon and develop arrangements for collaborative working with SMG and Showsec before, during and after events. This would have strengthened the relationship between the three organisations and ensured that there was effective communication, coordination and co-operation.

Communication, coordination and co-operation

SMG hosted the bi-annual meetings and so there was regular formal contact with BTP in that setting. I accept Miriam Stone and Paul Johnson’s evidence that they both had a good relationship with those they dealt with at BTP.712 Showsec attended these meetings as well.

Showsec recognised the importance of liaison with BTP. Showsec’s Operational Plan for the Arena had a section which addressed liaison with the police.713 It sets out the need for the sharing and division of responsibility “where police are deployed to an event”. The document asserts that “over the past years Showsec have worked closely with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and the British Transport Police (BTP).”

On 20th May 2017 Showsec called upon BTP to assist with a suspicious person.714 The evidence demonstrated a good working relationship between the two organisations on that occasion.

The evidence revealed that Showsec did not know the number of officers BTP deployed for events.715 Nor was there any evidence of a formal arrangement between Showsec and BTP in relation to their respective plans. The discussion of individual events during the bi-annual meetings was at a high level. It tended to focus on events where problems might be caused by attendees, such as boxing matches. Specific deployments at events which were not identified as being likely to result in potential disorder from event-goers was not discussed in any detail.

None of the officers deployed to police the Ariana Grande concert were aware of any formal arrangement between BTP and Showsec that required them to liaise in a systematic and pre-planned way, immediately prior to, during and after events.716 As a result, whether there was any contact at all between BTP and Showsec during the period of an event was left to the discretion of individual officers.

There was no robust system implemented by BTP to inform Showsec or SMG where, when and in what numbers officers would be deployed during an event. Nor did BTP know what Showsec’s plan was in terms of the frequency, ambit and timing of Showsec patrols. There was a substantial failure of coordination by BTP.

Adequate communication, coordination and co-operation by BTP with SMG and Showsec would have resulted in additional focus on the importance of a BTP presence in the City Room on 22nd May 2017. This was likely to have resulted in a BTP officer being present in the City Room during egress. Such an officer would have been on hand at the point when Christopher Wild formed his concerns. Greater coordination would have materially increased the likelihood that the BTP officer present would have been spoken to by Christopher Wild or become involved, if those concerns had been raised with Mohammed Agha. I have addressed above the potential causative consequences of this in Part 1. I have also considered SMG and Showsec’s responsibility to coordinate, communicate and co-operate with BTP in Part 6.

Risk assessment

A further opportunity to take proper account of the threat from terrorism was the carrying out of suitable and sufficient risk assessments on an event-by-event basis. No written risk assessment was conducted by BTP for the Ariana Grande concert or events generally.717 It was not the culture of BTP at that time to prepare such documents.718 A written risk assessment, which expressly considered the threat from terrorism for every event attended by a substantial number of people, should have been prepared. This is now the case.719

Inspector Wedderburn stated that she undertook an assessment of events using the National Decision-Making Model720. She said that she did not communicate the outcome of this process to anyone, although she did have a discussion about resourcing with the rostering sergeant.721 Having heard Inspector Wedderburn’s evidence about the process she undertook, it is clear to me that the focus of her assessment was on the audience numbers and profile. Her approach was over-dependent on the existence of intelligence of a specific threat722 and her general expectation that any officer who was deployed would have the threat from terrorism in their minds. Her approach did not adequately take into account the threat from terrorism. Had she adopted a more formal process in writing, which she shared with others, these shortcomings would have been much more likely to have been detected and corrected.

ACC O’Callaghan stated within BTP as an organisation there was no focus on planning a policing response to a PBIED.723 Consequently, I find that this particular risk was not adequately considered by Inspector Wedderburn when she was planning deployments to events. Of particular concern to me was the evidence that, when the threat from terrorism was considered by BTP, there was insufficient consideration of the nature of the terrorist attacks in Europe which preceded 22nd May 2017.724

Having heard from ACC O’Callaghan,725 I am satisfied that the failure to have proper regard for the nature and extent of the threat from terrorism when policing events at the Arena prior to May 2017 was not an issue confined to Inspector Wedderburn, but it existed at a higher level within BTP.