We are currently experiencing network problems with the desktop version of Police Oracle. We hope to have these resolved as soon as possible.

FDO “correct” to declare Operation Plato on night of arena bomb

But inquiry identifies multiple failings in training and command support

The force duty officer (FDO) who declared a marauding terrorist attack on the night of the Manchester Arena bombing on 22 May 2017 was “overburdened” and not properly supported by senior command officers, the report into the attack has found.

Specifically inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders, who wrote the report, said the FDO on the night Insp Dale Sexton was right to declare Operation Plato and singled out some officers for working heroically under extreme circumstances.

After the initial call of an explosion was received to the GMP control room and reported to Insp Sexton a subsequent call indicated that it could have been a false alarm but that quickly changed.

One of the first firearms officers who had arrived at the scene, PC Lee Moore, transmitted the following message to the FDO: “Boss. It’s become a different story now … they’ve got major casualties.”  PC Moore also mentioned Operation Plato so that the FDO thought officers at the scene were dealing with a Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack.

PC Moore considered that the situation was one in which Operation Plato ought to be declared. “PC Moore performed his duties with distinction that night,” the report said.

While the report says that Insp Sexton declared Operation Plato at an appropriate time he did not communicate that with other emergency services which “fundamentally undermined the joint response to the Attack,” the inquiry concluded.

Sir John said the FDO failed in other important respects but this was because he was “overburdened on the night.”

He agreed with the views of expert police commentators to the inquiry who said the role of the FDO quickly became untenable. They added: “To be clear this was not, in our view, a case of an inexperienced or incapable officer being faced with a situation beyond his capability. Insp Sexton was very capable, experienced, well trained and knowledgeable.

“The activation of a regional Operation Plato response required the immediate completion of multiple different actions; the FDO completed many of them personally. He was quickly overwhelmed by the volume of Operation Plato related operational notifications, which was in addition to his command of the terrorist attack, of the Operation Plato armed response and to his remaining responsibilities as the force’s FDO."

Sir John’s report said that “GMP had known for years” that there was a material risk that the FDO would become overburdened in the event of an Operation Plato declaration but had "failed to put in place proper mechanisms of support for the FDO."

A Major Incident should have been declared by GMP more than 140 minutes earlier. The failure to declare a Major Incident occurred across the GMP command structure the report found.

But it stresses the FDO did make a prompt deployment of firearms officers to the Arena and provided those officers with the appropriate authority and instructions. Had armed terrorists been present, they "would have been neutralised" the report says. 

The GMP Operational/Bronze Commander Insp Smith – who was a qualified public order Bronze commander  - voluntarily assumed responsibility for the unarmed officers at the scene of the explosion and “performed admirably under great pressure,” the report said. “In that role, he conducted himself with bravery, authority, resourcefulness and skill.”

Less than a minute after he had entered the room where the bomb had detonated Insp Smith made contact with GMP Control and said: “It looks to me like a bomb’s gone off here. I would say there’s about 30 casualties. Could you have every available ambulance to me please.”

Insp Smith made clear that his expectation was that this request would result in paramedics coming in large numbers.

The report says: “It is regrettable that no attempt was made by GMP strategic/gold or tactical/ silver command to obtain the views of Inspector Smith about the issue of safety in the City Room. Insp Smith was a highly experienced and accomplished officer who was on the ground and had situational awareness. He had some experience of firearms and a background in police searching. He had an invaluable insight that was simply never sought. His view of the issue of safety in the City Room would have been the best-informed view. It should have been obtained."

But the GMP Night Silver on the night of the attack “made no contribution of substance to the emergency response,” the report found.

Temporary Superintendent Nawaz estimated that in the two years prior to the attack, he had performed that role on fewer than ten occasions.

Sir John Saunders said:  “He was not competent to perform the role of Night Silver on the night of the Attack if for no other reason than he had not had the requisite training.”

Sir John added that Supt Nawaz “had never heard of  Operation Plato” so had no idea that this represented the response to any form of terrorist attack, let alone the response to a Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack.

The report also found that GMP strategic/gold command on the night – ACC Debbie Ford -  made no effective contribution to the emergency response although did make a significant contribution to managing the longer-term consequences of the Attack.

In particular the report said the Gold Commander should have done more to relieve the pressures on the swamped FDO.

It added: “ACC Ford was aware that, in the event that Operation Plato was declared, there was a significant risk that the FDO would become overwhelmed. One of the things ACC Ford could have done to support the FDO was to ensure he was relieved of the Initial Tactical Firearms Commander role.”

Leave a Comment
View Comments 10
In Other News
“Challenging period ahead” with changes to Prevent
MI5 failed to share intelligence about arena bomber
Release of terrorism offenders needs to be managed says CT lead
More News