Emergency services had fears of ‘marauding terrorist’ amid Manchester explosion

A gunman was feared to be on the loose in a “marauding terrorist” attack at Manchester Arena, an inquiry into the bombing has heard.

Audio from emergency services calls made in the minutes following the terror attack has been played as the emergency response is examined.

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi, 22, exploded his rucksack bomb at 10.31pm on May 22 2017, in the City Room or foyer of the Arena, killing 22 bystanders and injuring hundreds more among the 14,000 crowd leaving an Ariana Grande show.

The inquiry, which began last September, heard on Tuesday that there had been “reports of a shooting” as well as an explosion.

Manchester Arena Inquiry
Manchester Arena Inquiry

Among a series of audio clips played to the inquiry was a 12-minute call between North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) and North West Fire Control, which began six minutes after the blast.

The ambulance service caller is heard requesting assistance, saying there has been a “bomb threat” at the Arena.

The male caller says during the conversation that he has been informed “we are getting reports of people being shot”.

When pressed for information, he said: “There is reports of a shooting going on as well.”

The female in fire control confirms to him that she is logging his reports of a bomb having exploded, 60 casualties and an “active shooter”.

Later in the call the woman says an update has just come through which indicates injuries are shrapnel wounds rather than gunshot wounds.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Detective Inspector Michael Russell of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) helped to outline the sequence of events of the emergency service response.

Addressing him after the 12-minute call was played, counsel to the inquiry Nicholas de la Poer QC said: “If ever there was a time to bear in mind that time is passing it’s for this call, isn’t it?”

Mr Russell replied: “Twelve minutes long, yes.”

Mr de la Poer added: “In fact that call concludes sometime after 22.49, and as we’ll see an awful lot occurs, some of which is being reported in real time, as the various controls learn of new information.”

During internal audio from NWAS at around 10.43pm that night between the control and tactical departments, one person on the call can be heard to say: “We’ve got a marauding terrorist incident at Manchester Arena.”

The woman then adds that British Transport Police have reports of 50 casualties “but they have nothing regarding an active shooter so it may be a bomb”.

A few minutes later another short clip of audio confirms NWAS have declared a major incident.

A call handler can be heard to say: “We’ll call it declared (a major incident) as from now, 22.46.”

The inquiry has heard that, on receiving reports of gunshot injuries and an active gunman, Inspector Dale Sexton, the force duty officer at GMP HQ, declared Operation Plato, believing an armed terrorist was on the loose as part of the bomb attack.

Following an audio clip of that declaration, played on Tuesday, Mr de la Poer put it to Mr Russell that it seems it is “unmistakably the case that he (Sexton) certainly has in mind the possibility of whether there is more than one person involved.”

Mr Russell replied: “Yes, that’s correct.”

On Monday the inquiry heard that firefighters did not arrive at Manchester Arena until two hours after the suicide bombing, only one paramedic entered the blast scene in the first 40 minutes, and Greater Manchester Police did not declare a major incident until the following day.

The hearing continues.