- Counter Terrorism Policing Headquarters (CTPHQ) was able to gain good situational awareness, including of the declaration of Operation Plato.
- The CTPHQ response was well co‑ordinated and the network of Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officers was deployed rapidly.
- There was an element of good fortune in the initial notification and co‑location of CTPHQ officers. CTPHQ should ensure that all police services have in place a robust mechanism for the early notification of CTPHQ of any potential terrorist attack.
CTPHQ was established by an agreement between policing bodies in England and Wales. The agreement required regional policing bodies to work together to counter effectively the threat posed to the national interest from terrorism. CTPHQ was created to provide direction, support and co‑ordination to the counter terrorism policing network in England and Wales.
In May 2017, CI Thomas was the Head of Specialist and Counter Terrorism Armed Policing Capabilities at CTPHQ. This unit led police service engagement with the Home Office for the development of the JOPs programme and national Operation Plato policy.It also oversaw the CTSFO network. This is a group of highly trained firearms officers equipped to respond to terrorist incidents. Members of the CTSFO network are embedded within police services across the country.
On 22nd May 2017, CI Thomas was attending a two‑day meeting of the CTSFO network Tactical Co‑ordinating Group.He was also the CTSFO on‑call co‑ordinator. In the event of a terrorist incident, this role liaises with the CTSFO hubs around the country in order to provide support and resourcing if demand in one part of the country requires CTSFO resources from another police service. Inspector David Murtagh from GMP was also in attendance. He was the operational lead for the regional CTSFO hub.
At 22:40, Inspector Murtagh received a call from Sergeant Frederick Warburton, the duty CTSFO Sergeant at GMP. Sergeant Warburton reported that an explosion had just occurred at the Arena and that it was believed that a terrorist attack was under way.Three minutes later, Inspector Murtagh called CI Thomas to inform him. They agreed to meet immediately and began working from a meeting room in their hotel.
Mobilisation of the wider CTPHQ network
Within three minutes of the call from Inspector Murtagh, CI Thomas had contacted two of the Operational Firearms Commanders from the Intervention Response Teams.“the immediate response option from the CTSFO network”. He told the two Operational Firearms Commanders that it was believed that a terrorist attack was under way at the Arena. He instructed them to call out their Intervention Response Team staff immediately and get them fully equipped, then to contact him again when they were ready to deploy from their base.CI Thomas explained that the Intervention Response Team is
At the same time as these calls, Inspector Murtagh accessed the GMP Force‑ Wide Incident Log via his police laptop.This allowed him to receive updates on what was known about the developing situation at the Arena. He was also able to monitor the Airwave radio system for real‑time updates. CI Thomas and Inspector Murtagh were quickly joined by a number of CTSFO operational leads. They helped to set up a temporary operations room in the hotel to monitor the situation.
At 22:50, CI Thomas spoke to Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu to inform him of the Attack.Assistant Commissioner Basu was the Senior National Co‑ordinator. The role of the Senior National Co‑ordinator in response to a terror attack is to assume national strategic command of the incident and co‑ordinate the investigative response. The Senior National Co‑ordinator will be aware of the wider threat picture and what assets can and cannot be deployed. In that call, CI Thomas told Assistant Commissioner Basu that gunshots may have been heard at the Arena. This was information that Inspector Murtagh had passed on to him.
Assistant Commissioner Basu explained that, in the event of a terrorist attack, the usual protocol was for the relevant FDO to inform SO15 Reserve, who would then inform the Senior National Co‑ordinator. Assistant Commissioner Basu said that the FDO would have a long list of actions, including contacting the CTSFO on‑call co‑ordinator and the Senior National Co‑ordinator. Speed was critical to ensure that as many armed assets as possible could be deployed as quickly as possible. Assistant Commissioner Basu said that it did not matter that the CTSFO on‑call co‑ordinator was called before the Senior National Co‑ordinator.
Assistant Commissioner Basu noted: “If we all relied on one individual doing all of those actions that would be too slow.” This evidence encapsulated both the weight of responsibility on the FDO and how it was understood by the wider counter‑terrorism network that the FDO could become a critical point of failure.
Approximately ten minutes after CI Thomas had spoken to Assistant Commissioner Basu, another GMP Inspector staying at the hotel, Inspector Mark Nutter, began a contemporaneous log in the hotel room where they were working. This was to help keep an accurate log of communications.
At 23:03, the Deputy Senior National Co‑ordinator, ACC Terri Nicholson, received a telephone call from her husband, who was a manager of the national counter‑terrorism Firearms Training Unit. He advised that there was a suspected explosion at the Arena and that the CTSFO on‑call co‑ordinator had been notified. ACC Nicholson passed this information on to Assistant Commissioner Basu. She said that the Attack had taken the form of a person‑borne Improvised Explosive Device and that there may have been gunshots.
Awareness of Operation Plato declaration
After speaking to CI Dexter, at 23:05 Inspector Murtagh rang the GMP FDO line and asked for confirmation that Operation Plato had been declared.He was told that it had been. He shared this information with CI Thomas. Assistant Commissioner Basu was informed about the declaration of Operation Plato in a further call with ACC Nicholson at 23:12. At that stage, he was told that it was thought there were upwards of 15 fatalities. Armed Response Vehicles and CTSFOs had been deployed to the Arena. Assistant Commissioner Basu was working on the assumption that there was one explosion, but was aware of confusion on social media about reports of gunfire.
Around the same time, CI Thomas instructed the on‑call Intervention Response Teams to travel from their home bases to an RVP in Manchester.It was confirmed that GMP would be responsible for the mobilisation of its own CTSFOs, both those off duty and on duty, and that CI Thomas, as the on‑call co‑ordinator, would oversee the mobilisation of CTSFOs from other parts of the country.
I heard evidence about the need to ensure that all police resources deployed to a Major Incident, both from within and outside GMP, are managed effectively.This is particularly important for firearms officers. In light of this, CTPHQ may wish to review how it ensures effective co‑ordination of local and national assets so that no issues arise where the situation requires a rapid deployment of CTSFOs.
Inspector Murtagh spoke to CI Dexter about a suspicious male at Manchester Cathedral just over one hour after the explosion. Shortly afterwards, Inspector Murtagh called the GMP FDO line again and asked them to use the Airwave multi‑agency channels.
By 00:05, Inspector Murtagh updated CI Thomas and others at the hotel that it was believed that 18 people had died and a number of others were injured. Approximately eight minutes later, this was updated to 17 confirmed dead and over 50 people injured.
Continuing involvement in response
As the situation developed, Assistant Commissioner Basu took steps to begin the post‑incident investigation. Shortly before 01:00 on 23rd May 2017, he arrived at New Scotland Yard and met various senior officers, including the Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations, Sir Mark Rowley, and ACC Nicholson. By that stage, there was a high degree of confidence that the Attack was a terrorist incident. A public statement was agreed to say that the Attack was being treated as terrorism and that CTPHQ had assumed national strategic command.This declaration can only be made by the Senior National Co‑ordinator.
Over the following hours, CI Thomas continued to co‑ordinate the response of CTSFOs from outside Greater Manchester. CI Thomas made provision for other CTSFO teams to be available from 07:00 on 23rd May 2017. He said that it was clear that armed support from the CTSFO network would be required over the coming days.He spoke to the National Police Co‑ordination Centre to ensure that there was adequate Armed Response Vehicle support available to GMP.
CI Thomas remained at the temporary operations room at the hotel until the late afternoon on 23rd May 2017. He did so in order to fulfil his duties as the on‑call CTSFO co‑ordinator and maintain an overview of armed policing national capacity and resilience.
Although the CTSFO network did not play a central role in the response to the Attack, CI Thomas and his colleagues gained situational awareness of the Attack quickly and used that knowledge to good effect. They were able to begin steps for the deployment of non‑GMP CTSFO assets within 15 minutes of the explosion. They kept a contemporaneous log and they were proactive in confirming the declaration of Operation Plato. It was confirmed within 18 minutes of the declaration.
The CTPHQ response showed how effectively resources can be co‑ordinated, even with no notice, when those in charge are working remotely and in different locations. It provides an example of what a well‑co‑ordinated, police‑led response to the Attack might have been and how quickly resources could have been deployed on the scene. The use of the CTSFO network in particular is an issue that I will return to in reviewing the Care Gap in Part 20 in Volume 2‑II.
Inspector Murtagh commented that it was “in some ways fortunate” that a number of people who would have been involved in a response to a terrorist incident were all located in one place. I agree with that. While the CTPHQ response was swift and effective, the initial notification from GMP and timely co‑location came because of the attendance of Inspector Murtagh of GMP, CI Thomas and other CTPHQ officers at the same two‑day event. Had it not been for this, CTPHQ officers were likely to have found out later than they did. Communication would have been more difficult. This would have delayed CTPHQ’s response. CTPHQ should reflect upon this and ensure that the mechanism for notifying CTPHQ of any potential terrorist attack by any police service is an early priority.