Ambulance service commander ‘agrees he showed no leadership on night of attack’

An ambulance service commander agreed he provided “no leadership” on the night of the Manchester Arena attack, the public inquiry into the bombing has heard.

Monday, 14th June 2021, 4:33 pm
Updated Monday, 14th June 2021, 4:36 pm

Neil Barnes, a deputy director at North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), was the on-call Gold commander, the most senior NWAS officer on the night with overall responsibility for “command, response and recovery” in the event of a major incident.

But he chose to stay at home and await more information after taking the first call about an “incident” at the arena, the inquiry heard.

He denied the fact that he was on annual leave the next day and due to catch a flight out of the country had anything to do with the decision.

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Medics deploy at the scene of a reported explosion during a concert in Manchester, England on May 23, 2017
Medics deploy at the scene of a reported explosion during a concert in Manchester, England on May 23, 2017

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At 10.40pm on May 22 2017, the night of the attack, Mr Barnes was at home and heard his work phone ringing and took a call from NWAS Silver commander Annemarie Rooney.

He said he was told of a “suspected bombing attack” at the arena and agreed with a decision for Ms Rooney to go to the tactical co-ordinating group established at the headquarters of Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

Mr Barnes said he was awaiting a second call from Ms Rooney and more information before leaving home himself.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, suggested Mr Barnes was “reactive” rather than “proactive”.

Mr Barnes agreed he did not call the emergency operations centre of NWAS or use his radio to listen in on radio traffic to find out what was going on.

Mr Greaney said that by 10.54pm paramedic Paddy Ennis had been into the City Room and reported back a scene of “devastation”, with people dead and dying, and NWAS had declared a major incident.

Mr Greaney said: “Just sitting at home, waiting for information… does not seem like leadership, let alone strategic leadership.”

Mr Barnes said: “I think the process is clear. I don’t get involved as a strategic commander.”

Mr Greaney said: “Did the fact you had a flight to catch the next day at midday make any part in your decision to stay at home?”

Mr Barnes replied: “None whatsoever.”

The inquiry heard that Mr Barnes then got a call from Steve Taylor, a tactical adviser, telling him a strategic command group would be held at GMP HQ and he needed to attend.

Mr Barnes said he left home at 11.40pm, an hour after the initial call from Ms Rooney.

Mr Greaney said: “Given you arrived at 12.30am, you arrived in the command suite two hours after the explosion, 50 minutes after the last living casualty was evacuated from the City Room. In the first two hours after the attack, you provided no leadership?”

Mr Barnes said: “I agree sir.”

Mr Greaney continued: “You made no decision that made any difference to the response on the ground?”

Mr Barnes said: “I agree sir.”

The hearing was told the “whole point” of Mr Barnes going to GMP HQ was so that strategic Gold commanders from the police and fire service could hold a joint meeting to co-ordinate the response to the attack.

But before this could happen, Mr Barnes had requested to be relieved by another NWAS commander, as he was scheduled to catch a flight the next day, the hearing heard.

Mr Barnes was subsequently awarded the Queen’s Ambulance Service Medal as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2018.

The inquiry is looking at all the circumstances of the terror attack, carried out by suicide bomber Salman Abedi, in which 22 bystanders were murdered and hundreds injured.

The hearing continues.

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