Manchester Arena inquiry: survivors and bereaved families frustrated by lack of action to make venues safer

Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett was killed in the deadly bombing in 2017, has been campaigning for Martyn’s Law and is angry that legislation has not yet been tabled.

Survivors and bereaved families of those killed in the Manchester Arena bombing have expressed frustration at the lack of action by the government to make venues safer as the inquiry’s latest report on the terror attack is published.

The slow pace of change in the wake of the deadly bombing which killed 22 people and injured dozens more in May 2017 has been criticised. It comes as the second volume of the inquiry’s findings found, as was widely expected, that there were significant failures in the authorities’ planning and preparation that led to the attack causing even more devastation. Among those who have spoken out is Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett was killed in the bombing. She has been campaigning for Martyn’s Law to make venues safer and is frustrated that legislation is still to be tabled.

The Government has said the legislation is important and is working to make it law as soon as possible.

What is Martyn’s Law and what has happened since the Manchester Arena bombing?

Martyn’s Law is a piece of legislation dealing with security which those calling for it say should apply to any place to which the public has access. For small venues this may simply require an addition to their already-mandated fire plan, while for bigger and more complex venues it will require a more holistic approach.

It says venues need to do the following things:

  • engage with freely available counterterrorism advice and training,
  • conduct vulnerability assessments of their operating places and spaces,
  • mitigate the risks created by the vulnerabilities,
  • put in place a counter-terrorism plan.

It also contains a requirement for local authorities to plan for the threat of terrorism, Volume one of Sir John Saunders’ inquiry into the Arena attack recognised the value of the legislation.

However, while the government announced its support for the Duty to Protect in 2019, has conducted an extensive consultation and promised legislation in the last Queen’s speech, nothing has so far been tabled which would start the process of it becoming law. Campaigners also fear that the legislation could be watered down and apply only to the largest venues.

What have campaigners said?

Figen Murray said: “I keep getting told we have the support of the government yet legislation is being consistently delayed. Martyn’s Law would save lives and every day it’s not in place is another day we are putting the public at risk.

“I have now met five different security ministers, all of whom have said how important it is and how imminent the legislation is. Yet over five years on from the attack we are yet to see it. We are now hearing rumours that some in government are trying to water it down to such an extent that it would pass in name only.

“I know that politics has been in turmoil in recent months, but there is no excuse for delaying or weakening legislation that could save thousands of lives.”

Figen Murray with her son Martyn Hett

Cath Hill, who was at the Arena with her son on the night of the attack and has since set up the Manchester Survivors Choir, said: “We have all been through so much pain in the last five years. One of the few hopes we cling onto is that what happened to us will mean we learn the lessons and protect others. But for that to happen the government needs to change their warm words into concrete legislation.”

Nick Aldworth, a former Detective Chief Superintendent and UK counter-terrorism national co-ordinator, also spoke out publicly in favour of Martyn’s Law and criticised politicians over the delays. He said: “I’m frustrated by how long it is taking for the government to fulfil what was a manifesto promise. When you consider that myself and other senior police officers were calling for this legislation within days of the Manchester Arena attack, it’s time for that experienced view to be listened to, and survivors and victims to be respected. During the government’s own consultation, seven out of 10 respondents were supportive of the law.

“Martyn’s Law is a simple, low-cost, and effective way of making our country safer. With the shift in terrorists’ strategy to target smaller venues, using crude weapons, it’s even more important that all public venues are covered by the law. Focusing on just large venues would fail to recognise where the greatest vulnerabilities often exist.”

Brendan Cox, co-founder of Survivors Against Terror which is supporting Figen’s campaign, said: “Survivors are understandably getting frustrated with government foot-dragging. This is a law that has all party support and would make our country safer. If there were another attack where failure to prepare made the attack more deadly, the government would not be able to say it wasn’t warned.”

What has the Government said?

Security minister Tom Tugendhat said: “I’m very grateful to Figen Murray’s tireless campaigning and Martyn’s Law will ensure public places put safety and security first. The commitment made to the ‘Protect Duty’ in the Queen’s Speech and the 2019 manifesto remains. I am working hard with officials to bring forward this important piece of legislation as soon as possible.”