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

BTP’s policing of the City Room on 22nd May 2017

Five officers were deployed to police the Ariana Grande concert: PC Corke, PC Bullough, PCSO Renshaw, PCSO Morrey and PCSO Brown. PCSO Brown was still undergoing tutoring under PCSO Morrey on 22nd May 2017726 and so he was expected to remain with PCSO Morrey.727

The circumstances of the deployment were as follows. In 2017 Sergeant Wilson was an officer with 22 years’ service.728 At 14:10729 on 22nd May 2017, he delivered a verbal briefing which included the deployment to the Victoria Exchange Complex. In the course of the briefing, Sergeant Wilson mentioned counter-terrorism.730 PSCO Renshaw attended this briefing, having come on duty at 14:00.731 PC Corke, PC Bullough, PCSO Morrey and PCSO Brown did not attend the verbal briefing as they did not come on duty until 15:00.732

In addition to the verbal briefing, in an email sent at 14:41 on 22nd May 2017, Sergeant Wilson provided a short, written briefing to all of those who were allocated to the concert.733 The email was addressed directly to PC Corke, PC Bullough, PCSO Renshaw, PCSO Morrey and PCSO Brown. It informed these officers that they “are down to assist the concert tonight”. It stated that the officers are “deployed for the in and the out.” It instructed the officers to deploy to three areas, one of which was “patrolling the city rooms”. It stated that breaks should “be staggered between 1930-2100 so we have someone at Victoria”. Attached to the email was the event rider which included information about the audience demographic. Neither the email nor the event rider referred to the threat from terrorism.

PC Corke and PC Bullough both recalled having seen the written briefing.734 PCSO Renshaw did not have a mobile phone with him and so did not see it,735 but he had received the verbal briefing. PCSO Morrey had no recollection of whether he saw the email.736 PCSO Brown thought he may have seen it as it was his practice to check his emails.737

Sergeant Wilson stated that by “the in and the out” he meant ingress to and egress from the concert.738 He stated that his expectation was that there would be a BTP patrol looking out for suspicious activity or suspicious people in the City Room about 30 minutes before people started to walk out.739 This time range accorded with PC Corke’s understanding of the meaning of egress.740 It also accords with common sense.

Sergeant Wilson’s meaning was clear in the email. The email directed that there should have been a policing presence in the Victoria Exchange Complex throughout the period of the deployment. The email directed that at least one officer should have been in the City Room from approximately 22:00. I accept Sergeant Wilson’s evidence that the email was a reiteration of his verbal briefing in terms of where he expected officers to be741. Consequently, in the verbal briefing Sergeant Wilson provided identical instructions to those who attended it. PC Bullough accepted without equivocation that the instructions were sufficiently clear.742 I agree with that assessment.

The question then is, why were Sergeant Wilson’s instructions not followed?

PC Corke was the most experienced of those who had been allocated to police the concert that night. Sergeant Wilson’s email directed him to deal with an unrelated matter before attending the Victoria Exchange Complex. At 21:00, although he had not completed that task,743 PC Corke told Sergeant Wilson that he would be at the Arena for egress.744 However, PC Corke did not attend Victoria Railway Station until 22:34.745 He only did so in response to the requests for assistance after the explosion had occurred.746

Exactly when PC Corke finished dealing with his other task is not clear on the evidence.747 What is clear is that PC Corke did not go straight to the Victoria Exchange Complex once he had completed it. Instead, he travelled with PC Matthew Martin in a police vehicle to Deansgate.748 PC Corke’s justification for doing this is that he was reliant upon PC Martin for a lift749 albeit that he, PC Corke, drove the vehicle.750 PC Corke explained that he was not present at egress on the basis that he had mistimed his movements by “a couple of minutes”.751 Given that on both PC Corke and Sergeant Wilson’s evidence the period for egress would begin by 22:15, at the latest, and, given that at 22:32 he was still on Deansgate,752 PC Corke’s mistiming was substantially greater than a couple of minutes.

Even accepting that there may have been good reasons for his absence, PC Corke should have communicated to the duty sergeant, who was Sergeant Peter Wilcock from 21:00, that he had been unavoidably detained. I do not accept PC Corke’s evidence that it was not his responsibility to do this.753

In relation to those who did attend the Victoria Exchange Complex for their deployment, all four took a break substantially longer than they were permitted. At 19:27, PC Bullough and PCSO Renshaw set off on a five mile journey to buy a take-away. They returned at 20:08. They then went to a private area within the station where they continued their break for a further 78 minutes, until 21:36, when they returned to the station concourse.754 During the latter 35 minutes of PC Bullough and PCSO Renshaw’s break, PCSO Morrey and PCSO Brown took their break, from 20:58 to 22:28. This meant that during the period 20:58 to 21:36 there was no BTP policing presence within the public areas of the Victoria Exchange Complex, including the City Room. Each of these officers was entitled only to a break lasting, at most, one hour.755

PC Bullough, PCSO Renshaw and PCSO Brown were candid in their acceptance that there was no good reason for the length of their breaks.756 PCSO Morrey stated he could not recall whether or not he took an unacceptably long break or not.757 None of the four officers sought to provide any justification for why their breaks overlapped.

There was a complete absence of any BTP officer in the City Room from around 22:00 until after the explosion. No satisfactory justification has been provided for this.758 ACC O’Callaghan gave conflicting evidence in relation to why he believed Sergeant Wilson’s email was not followed. On one hand, ACC O’Callaghan stated that it would be wrong to blame individual officers.759 On the other, he was adamant that the officers were adequately supervised760 and they could be expected to follow the instructions they were given.761 He also accepted that a person is more likely to follow instructions if they had a clear understanding of the reasons for them.762

In my view there were a number of reasons why there was no BTP officer in the City Room from 22:00.

It was partly because PC Bullough, PSCO Renshaw and PCSO Morrey failed to organise themselves in a way that followed Sergeant Wilson’s clear instructions. That is not, though, the complete explanation. The lack of clear leadership from any police officer present within the Victoria Exchange Complex was a significant contributory factor to this failure.

Having heard the evidence from each of those officers involved, I find that the absence of a person with the experience of PC Corke763 resulted in a lack of clear leadership on the ground. PC Bullough, the only police constable at the Arena, had joined BTP in July 2016 and had been operational from October 2016. She was not an experienced officer.764 She was still within her probationary period which was due to be completed in July 2018.765 This was only her fifth deployment to police an event at the Arena.766 While PCSO Morrey thought PC Bullough was in charge,767 neither she nor PCSO Renshaw thought that she was.768 Inspector Wedderburn’s evidence was that those present should have worked it out between themselves,769 although she accepted that it was now clear to her that officers deployed to police an event needed to be supervised.770 An officer of PC Corke’s 30 years’ experience would have had a better grasp of how to ensure Sergeant Wilson’s instructions were followed by all present. By reason of his length of service, PC Corke would also have had a greater natural authority. There should have been either a sergeant or an experienced constable on duty in the station complex to supervise the less senior and less experienced officers.

It is important to take a step back and look at the evidence as a whole. All five officers allocated to the Arena that night failed to follow clear instructions and do what was expected of them in important respects. One explanation for this might be that, by chance, and, in different ways, each of them deliberately and consciously failed to act as they knew they should. An alternative explanation is that, in addition to the lack of leadership present at the Victoria Exchange Complex, more systemic, cultural factors were in play.

All five officers had received appropriate counter-terrorism training.771 I have no reason to doubt that each of them would have been able to confirm in May 2017 what the terrorism threat level was had they been asked. However, having seen what they did772 and heard what they have said about it, I find that none of them had realised when on duty on 22nd May 2017, that they needed to be alert to the possibility of a terrorist attack. With the exception of PCSO Brown, who was still under direct supervision, that is a significant failure on the part of each of the BTP officers who were deployed to the Victoria Exchange Complex.

BTP, as an organisation, was principally responsible for this defect in the officers’ attitude. BTP failed to instil the necessary alertness into each of them in their day-to-day operation.

ACC O’Callaghan acknowledged the difficulty with keeping police officers’ attention in briefings, when there was no new information. He likened this to the safety briefing at the start of a flight.773 I accept that making information memorable is a real challenge which confronts every police service in the country. It means that careful thought must be given to ensuring that this challenge is overcome. The longer the threat level remains static, the more likely it is to get pushed to the back of the minds of those whose duty is to police events. It is the obligation of the organisation to ensure that the counter-terrorism message is received by those being briefed.

This did not happen within BTP prior to 22nd May 2017. ACC O’Callaghan stated his belief that terrorism was in the minds of all of the officers.774 The approach by the officers on 22nd May 2017 to the discharge of their duties reveals that this was not at the forefront of their minds.

Symptomatic of the absence of conscious, proactive thought in relation to the risk of terrorism was the approach to both written risk assessments and a written plan for policing events. The 2014 Tactical Report (or similar) was not used. The lack of a proper assessment of the risk in written form and the lack of any other written plan for policing of events at the Victoria Exchange Complex, reveal a failure on BTP’s part to give proper consideration to the threat from terrorism when deploying officers to police events at the Arena. The process of creating such documents compels thought to be given to threats and how they can be mitigated. This is capable of having real value by influencing the culture at all levels of command. This, in turn, is capable of affecting the attitude of those deployed on the ground.