‘Doing nothing is not an option’: Manchester Arena inquiry chair demands action to protect venues from attacks

Judge calls for business owners and operators who violate new legal duty to be jailed

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
@lizziedearden
Thursday 17 June 2021 20:44
<p>Martyn Hett was among the 22 people who were killed in the attack in 2017</p>

Martyn Hett was among the 22 people who were killed in the attack in 2017

The chair of the Manchester Arena terror attack inquiry has called for national action to enforce protections at large venues.

Sir John Saunders said that operators who violate a new legal duty, to be introduced by the government, should be jailed.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” he said on Thursday. “It should not be necessary to have security to protect us from murderers who have formed the intention to kill innocent members of the public, including children, in pursuit of their distorted beliefs.

“But while the terrorist threat remains, and it shows no sign of going away, we do need to have in place protective measures which provide security against the threat but do not prevent us enjoying the freedoms which are part of our way of life.”

The report, examining security arrangements at Manchester Arena, found that numerous opportunities to prevent the attack or reduce the death toll were missed.

The list of failings included inadequate risk assessments, a lack of awareness among security staff of the terror threat, and the failure to spot Salman Abedi as suspicious or to have a security perimeter that would have caused the bomber to be searched.

Sir John made a series of recommendations for the operators of Manchester Arena and the police and security staff involved, but also called for national action.

He said the current system, whereby some venues can apply for security grants or consult counterterrorism security advisers (CTSAs), was voluntary.

“The lack of any specific duty to identify and mitigate the risk of terrorism means that the system is inadequate to provide a proper level of protection to the public,” said the report.

As a consequence of campaigning by Figen Murray, the mother of victim Martyn Hett, the government is now consulting on a proposed “protect duty”.

It would apply to owners and operators of public venues, large organisations, and those responsible for public spaces, and would require them to consider terrorist threats and to implement proportionate protective security.

Sir John called for the government to create categories of venue beyond the proposed bar of a capacity of over 100, because a “high standard of protective security is justified” for venues as large as Manchester Arena.

Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett died in the bombing, gave evidence to the public inquiry

He said that the government had proposed “light touch” regulation, but it would not be appropriate for large commercial premises.

The judge called for “rigorous and robust enforcement” of the protect duty, and for the government to not limit punishments for breaking it to civil penalties and fines.

“The possible consequences of breaches are so serious that proper steps need to be taken to stop them happening,” Sir John said.

He said provision should be made for “criminal prosecutions and more severe penalties” in serious cases, similar to the jail sentences available for health and safety offences.

“There is no good reason to put in place an enforcement regime that is any less rigorous or robust in terms of inspection, enforcement and penalty than that which exists in the parallel health and safety legislation,” Sir John added.

He said that the protect duty could also be drawn into planning and licensing applications, and apply to companies responsible for security as well as landowners and business operators.

The findings were published in the first of three reports from the inquiry.

The next report will consider the emergency response to the bombing, and whether any of the victims’ lives could have been saved, and the final volume will look at Abedi’s radicalisation and whether the security services could have prevented him from carrying out the attack.

The Home Office said it would consider Sir John’s recommendations on the protect duty alongside responses in an ongoing public consultation.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, said: “I am extremely grateful to Figen Murray and her tireless campaigning for ‘Martyn’s Law’ following the devastating loss of her son in the attack, ensuring that venues and public spaces put the safety and security of the public first.

“We will now carefully consider the chair’s conclusions and recommendations in this report – including his reflections on the protect duty – which will help shape our consultation response, and respond fully in due course.”