- The emergency services operating in Greater Manchester used the Airwave network for radio communications.
- A talk group is a radio channel which permits two or more people to communicate with each other.
- Greater Manchester Police monitored two ‘hailing’ talk groups 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Neither of these were used on the night of the Attack by the other emergency services.
- British Transport Police should have used the police hailing talk group on the night of the Attack.
- At the time of the Attack, the emergency services operating in Greater Manchester were in the process of setting up a multi‑agency control room talk group.
- The proposed multi‑agency control room talk group should have been operating by the time of the Attack.
- Had the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group been operating at the time of the Attack: it would have avoided time being spent trying to set one up during the response; it would have led to better communication between emergency services; it is likely Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service would have attended sooner than it did; and it may have led to more paramedics being deployed into the City Room.
The Airwave network is a secure, private mobile radio communications network for organisations involved in public safety in the UK. The project to introduce Airwave nationally began in 2000.By 2010, 300 organisations had access to the Airwave network.
Airwave was introduced to GMP in 2003 and to GMFRS and NWAS in 2010/11.
The term ‘talk group’ refers to a radio channel which has been identified for a particular purpose or for particular users. It provides a way for two or more parties to speak to each other using the radio.Some talk groups were for use within an organisation. For example, a talk group may be used by all responders from one of the emergency services involved in a particular incident. Multi‑agency talk groups, as the name suggests, are radio channels for use by more than one emergency service.
A talk group can be accessed by individuals through handheld radios and by control rooms through their integrated communications system.
A national SOP, dated 2010, governs the use of Airwave talk groups (the SOP Guide). The SOP Guide is agreed between the Chief Officers and Chief Executives of the ambulance, fire and police services nationally. It is designed to “enhance Interoperable Voice Communication between the emergency services”.
The SOP Guide stated that, to ensure consistency in its use, the Airwave system should be managed through local resilience forums.Deputy Chief Fire Officer Argyle, giving evidence as the Chair of GMRF at the time of the Attack, stated that every organisation used Airwave slightly differently. He did not, however, recall any specific problems being raised about multi‑agency use of Airwave in Greater Manchester.
GMP Airwave Tactical Advisor
An Airwave Tactical Advisor was a person able to provide advice on the management of the Airwave system. They underwent a three‑day, pass/fail intensive training course run by the College of Policing. Those qualified in this role were equipped to manage the Airwave talk group system and network. They understood how the Airwave system worked and what its complexities were. In GMP, the Airwave Tactical Advisor gave advice to the Tactical/Silver Commander and the FDO as required.
At the time of the Attack, there were approximately seven qualified Airwave Tactical Advisors within GMP. A list was maintained of those who were qualified. GMP did not operate a system which ensured that there was always an Airwave Tactical Advisor either on duty or on call. Emergency Planning Command Co‑ordinator Laura Lewis was one of the Airwave Tactical Advisors. She maintained the list of those who were qualified. In evidence she stated that, if there were no Airwave Tactical Advisor on duty, an FDO who needed one was expected to work their way down the list and find out who was available to give advice.
GMP’s Major Incident Plan identified that an “Airwaves Tactical Advisor” was a Major Incident resource “available” to Tactical/Silver Commanders “via the duty officer, Silver or Gold Control”.
The FDO on the night of the Attack, Inspector Sexton, had created an aide‑ memoire for use during a Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack. The second item on it was: “Identify an Airwaves TAC asap.” Inspector Sexton completed a debrief questionnaire following the incident. Under the heading “… what aspects of the overall incident did not go well”, he made the following comment: “No Airwaves TAC on duty or officially ‘On Call’ to assist with … knowledge of the various appropriate secondary channels.”
On the night of the Attack, Laura Lewis was not on call or on duty. She was at home. She was contacted by a colleague in GMP Control. She was not contacted as an Airwave Tactical Advisor, but as a Gold and Silver Control Room Manager. She travelled to GMP HQ. Once she was at GMP HQ, Laura Lewis offered direction in relation to Airwave once the Silver Control Room communication staff had arrived. However, through no fault of hers, this was not until after the critical period of the response had ended.
Existing Airwave talk groups
Monitored multi-agency talk groups
GMP Control monitored the multi‑agency hailing channel/talk group and the police hailing talk group 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The multi‑agency hailing channel/talk group was available to NWAS and GMFRS on the night of the Attack. It was not used by either service. The police hailing talk group was available to BTP on the night of the Attack. It was not used by BTP.
As I set out earlier in this Part, I am critical of BTP for not using the police hailing talk group given the difficulties that were experienced getting through to GMP Control.
Unmonitored multi-agency talk groups
There were a number of unmonitored talk groups which were available for use on the night of the Attack. In the case of each of these, it was necessary for each of the control rooms to be informed of the need to dial in before there could be multi‑way communication on any of them.
One of the unmonitored talk groups was the Tactical/Silver multi‑agency talk group. This was originally intended for use by Tactical/Silver Commanders during a Major Incident.This was not a talk group that was much used in the period before the Attack. That was because the Tactical/Silver Commanders tended to co‑locate at GMP HQ.
There were three Operational/Bronze Commander talk groups available for use which were unmonitored.These talk groups were the subject of weekly testing by the emergency services in Greater Manchester.
Earlier in this Part, I set out the unsatisfactory position GMP had got into with its Operation Plato plans. One of those plans I have referred to as ‘the Whittle Plan’. The Whittle Plan was created shortly before the Attack. It anticipated that the FDO would “[e]stablish 3 way communication” using one of the Operational/ Bronze Commander talk groups and “provide a METHANE briefing”.
The third item on Inspector Sexton’s aide‑memoire directed him to nominate a multi‑agency Operational/Bronze Commander talk group from one of three existing options. This item appears under the heading “JESIP – GMFRS/NWAS”. The aide‑memoire stated that nomination of the channel would occur when Inspector Sexton contacted “each ILO [Interagency Liaison Officer]”.
On the night of the Attack, Inspector Sexton failed to contact the Interagency Liaison Officers for other emergency services. He did not nominate the use of any of the Operational/Bronze Commander talk groups. None of the Operational/Bronze Commander talk groups was used by any emergency service at any point as part of the response to the Attack.
Proposed multi-agency control room talk group
At the time of the Attack, the emergency services in Greater Manchester were in the process of agreeing the use of a multi‑agency talk group for use by control rooms. The plan was to use the existing Tactical/Silver talk group for this purpose. By 22nd May 2017, the arrangements had not been finalised. I shall refer to this as ‘the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group’.
Joint Operating Principles third edition (January 2016)
In January 2016, JOPs 3 was published. As I set out in Part 11, it stated:
“The Police will instigate a three-way telecommunication link between the emergency services’ control rooms … The provision of unbroken communication links between the emergency services’ control rooms should enable the timely passing of information and intelligence that will inform deployment decisions.”
The footnote to this entry stated: “This link may be an interoperable talk group, telephone conference call or other method depending on local procedures.”
In February 2016, CI Booth completed a Home Office questionnaire about GMP’s arrangements in relation to a Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack. His response included the fact that NWAS and GMFRS had the ability to contact the FDO directly by telephone. He went on to say that there were talk groups which could be activated as a fallback measure.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (1st November 2016)
As I set out earlier in this Part, in late October to early November 2016, GMP was subject to an inspection of its counter‑terrorism capability by HMICFRS. Immediate feedback from a meeting with the HMICFRS Inspectors was captured in an email dated 1st November 2016 from Chief Superintendent Stuart Ellison to Temporary ACC Hankinson and “HMIC liaison”:
“There’s clearly a recognition that maintaining command and control through that period [the period of Operation Plato] is going to be a challenge, particularly when the learning from other parts of the world suggests that telephone lines will be in melt-down. On that we also talked through the need to protect the Airwaves structure…
There was interest in how we liaise with NWAS and GMFRS – the Aide Memoir cards being produced here for staff as prompts when they are under excessive pressure were welcomed, and each week we (FDO’s) test the three way GMP-NWAS-GMFRS talk group that gets opened after PLATO is declared to ensure that avenue is genuinely open.”
The situation being described by Chief Superintendent Ellison was that multi‑agency communication using Airwave would occur once the talk group “gets opened”. By this I understand him to mean that all control rooms are informed that they should dial in and listen to the talk group. This would only happen after Operation Plato has been declared.
Devon and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service policy (18th January 2017)
On 18th January 2017, Group Manager Levy was undertaking research in relation to the practices of other fire and rescue services. He came across a publicly available document. That document “set out the locally agreed principles for the use of available interoperable radio channels” within the Devon and Cornwall region.
The document Group Manager Levy identified was entitled Multi-agency Airwave Interoperability – Standard Operating Procedure. It was 38 pages. It was owned by the local resilience forum. It was dated 16th March 2011.
Group Manager Levy sent this material attached to an email to Station Manager Gaskell and Group Manager Fletcher. Two days later, Station Manager Gaskell replied to say: “Some really useful information in there, Ben.” Group Manager Levy replied later that day: “We could do with similar in the LRF [local resilience forum] here.”
It is not clear to me whether Station Manager Gaskell took any immediate steps in response to this information. Group Manager Fletcher stated that it was possible that he opened the email, but not the attachment. He stated: “I think I missed it.”
Joint Operating Principles third edition training (22nd February 2017)
On 22nd February 2017, Laura Lewis and PC Jo Hoyte of GMP attended a JOPs commander briefing event hosted by GMFRS. They did so in their capacity as Airwave Tactical Advisors. In the course of the event, they agreed that it would be a good idea to formalise which talk group would be used following an Operation Plato declaration.
The channel which had been used for the Tactical/Silver multi‑agency talk group was identified as being available for use by control rooms on the basis that it was not often used.
Exercise Hawk River (1st March 2017)
Exercise Hawk River was hosted by GMFRS on 1st March 2017. The focus of the exercise was on the application of JOPs 3 and JESIP during a Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack. Laura Lewis and PC Hoyte attended the event to provide Airwave tactical advice. The use of a three‑way communication link between control rooms was discussed.
In evidence, Group Manager Fletcher stated that part of the debate was around what JOPs 3 envisaged by a three‑way uninterrupted communication link.
The debrief from Exercise Hawk River noted problems with inter‑agency communications. The fact that there was no single talk group or ability to broadcast to all agencies was raised. Group Manager Fletcher said of Exercise Hawk River that it was “where the full identification of the tri-service communication link was discussed in earnest”.
Under the heading “Good Practice”, the Exercise Hawk River debrief advised that an Airwave Tactical Advisor should be appointed at the earliest opportunity during a Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack. It went on to recommend that a talk group should be used by Operational/Bronze Commanders. The debrief identified the need for an SOP in the event of any Major Incident:
“Create an SOP for appropriate use of Airwaves channels in the event of any major incident all 3 services default to [channel number] (Silver/Tactical) and [channel number] (Bronze/Operational activity) if not co-located.”
As a result of Exercise Hawk River, it was agreed by GMP, NWAS and GMFRS that a multi‑agency control room talk group would be used in the event of a Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack. It was agreed that GMP would lead on the implementation of this talk group.
Standard Operating Procedure meeting (15th March 2017)
Sergeant Whittle instructed Laura Lewis and PC Hoyte to draft an SOP for tri‑service communication between control rooms in Greater Manchester (the Greater Manchester SOP).The Greater Manchester SOP was not confined to Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attacks but was intended to cover all Major Incidents.
On 15th March 2017, Laura Lewis and PC Hoyte discussed the SOP with CI Booth. It was agreed that checks needed to be conducted with NWFC and NWAS to ensure they could access the talk group. At the meeting, it was agreed that the existing Tactical/Silver talk group should join the other channels which were tested weekly.
Laura Lewis explained that, as NWFC managed communications for services outside of Greater Manchester, she was concerned to check that the move to the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group would be successful.
As a result of the meeting on 15th March 2017, Laura Lewis arranged to visit both NWAS Control and NWFC on 10th April 2017.
Westminster Bridge terrorist attack (22nd March 2017)
On 22nd March 2017, ISIS‑inspired terrorist Khalid Masood carried out a terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge. He killed five people and injured many more.
Laura Lewis agreed when giving evidence that this attack highlighted the need to progress the work on the Greater Manchester SOP as a matter of urgency.
Email from Sergeant Whittle (30th March 2017)
On 30th March 2017, Sergeant Whittle emailed Laura Lewis and PC Hoyte. In that email, he stated: “Recent command training session around JESIP working has identified our need to switch to the use of Airwaves channel [the proposed multi-agency control room talk group] for our three-way JESIP communications link”. Laura Lewis confirmed in evidence that this was a reference to using the existing Tactical/Silver talk group channel.
The email went on: “I have met with commanders from NWAS Simon Watson and GMFRS Neil Gaskell and agreed a switch over date of Sunday 30 April 2017 with a test to be conducted by the duty FDO on that morning.” Laura Lewis replied later that day to confirm that she and PC Hoyte were attending NWAS Control and NWFC on 10th April 2017.
Following visits to NWFC and NWAS Control (10th and 20th April 2017)
On 10th April 2017, Group Manager Levy met with Laura Lewis and PC Hoyte at NWFC. Following the meeting, Group Manager Levy sent Laura Lewis and PC Hoyte a copy of the SOP from Devon and Cornwall.
On 20th April 2017, PC Hoyte sent an email to Cally Fillingham, the Training Manager for Airwave Tactical Advisors at the College of Policing.
“hoping to set up a protocol / standard operating procedure whereby each control room automatically monitors [the proposed multi-agency control room talk group] and use this as an initial means of communication between the three agencies as a matter of course, as outlined in the JESIP principles.”
Later that day, Sergeant Whittle emailed Laura Lewis asking about the visits to NWFC and NWAS Control. He asked whether Laura Lewis thought it feasible for a “change over” to happen on 28th April 2017. Station Manager Gaskell was on copy to this email. He replied saying: “I think with timescales it may be worth postponing slightly so that we can agree everything and make sure we get this right.”
The following day, PC Hoyte also replied, stating: “I think that 28 April might be a bit ambitious but we are on with it. I’m thinking that around the middle of May might be a bit more realistic due to current workload and a four day course which I need to attend.”
CI Booth replied to PC Hoyte the same day: “I agree with the suggestion to wait just a little longer to coordinate all the inter-agency testing that could usefully be undertaken with the control rooms.”
Day of the Attack (22nd May 2017)
At 13:44 on 22nd May 2017, PC Hoyte emailed Laura Lewis a document which set out the process for a weekly test of the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group.PC Hoyte suggested a meeting between the two of them on 24th May 2017 with meetings with others with an interest to follow.
The position at the time of the Attack was that work was ongoing to establish the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group as a channel that was monitored by all emergency services in Greater Manchester 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Night of the Attack (22nd May 2017)
The proposed multi‑agency control room talk group was not used during the critical period of the response. It was used briefly for the purpose of establishing who was listening at around 00:00 on 23rd May 2017. I shall return to the detail of this in Parts 13, 14 and 15.
As Laura Lewis explained, it would have been “as quick as you can make two telephone calls” to set up. Had an Airwave Tactical Advisor been immediately available to Inspector Sexton, this would have been something which that person could have advised needed to be done.
There would have been no need for such advice or telephone calls if the emergency services in Greater Manchester had established before 22nd May 2017 the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group as a channel which was monitored by all of the emergency services’ control rooms 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Following the Attack (26th May 2017)
On 26th May 2017, a meeting took place involving GMFRS, GMP and NWAS. Group Manager Fletcher was present at this meeting. He stated it occurred so as “to ensure that the poor communication issues from the Arena were never repeated”. He estimated that, “in the space of 15 minutes”, an interim solution had been agreed. Group Manager Fletcher considered that the necessary background work which had allowed the interim solution to be agreed had been completed by the end of April 2017.
At 17:41 on 26th May 2017, Sergeant Stephen Henderson circulated “an interim three service protocol” for use of the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group. As the email made clear, under this protocol each emergency service control room was expected to monitor the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group at all times.
This marked a significant improvement to the way in which the emergency services in Greater Manchester had been operating.
Having reviewed the timeline relating to the proposed multi‑agency control room talk group, I have concluded that it was not progressed fast enough by GMP, NWAS and GMFRS. It should have been obvious that a talk group which was monitored by the control rooms of each of the emergency services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was a system which would have been significantly better than the one in place at the time of the Attack. The Westminster Bridge terrorist attack should have underlined the need to establish it as quickly as possible.
The failure lies with the organisations rather than the individuals who were involved. Principal responsibility lies with GMP as lead agency. I recognise that there were existing talk groups which could have been nominated for multi‑agency control room contact. However, this approach was reliant on the FDO nominating a talk group and other emergency services being informed of this. GMP was well aware what a busy role that would be in the event of an Operation Plato declaration. This gave rise to a risk that it would be overlooked.
Given the importance of multi‑agency communication and the relative ease with which it would have been possible to achieve earlier what was achieved on 26th May 2017, this work should have been done sooner than it was. It would have led to far better multi‑agency communication on the night of the Attack. It is not possible to say with certainty which of the problems it would have addressed. It seems likely that the delay of GMFRS attending would have been shortened. It is possible that the consistent requests for paramedics in the City Room by police officers would have reached NWAS with greater impact.