RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Manchester Arena bombing due to cowardice

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: What happened in the Manchester Arena bombing was the culmination of two decades of slavish adherence to suffocating elf’n’safety box-ticking and institutional cowardice

After the savage Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, families and friends of the victims were encouraged to join hands and sing Don’t Look Back In Anger, by local heroes Oasis.

Following yesterday’s scathing report into the multiple failings of the emergency services, what a sick joke that sentiment now seems.

In the immediate aftermath of Islamist nutjob Salman Abedi detonating his deadly device, the dying and seriously injured were simply abandoned to their fate.

Two of the 22 people who lost their lives may have been saved had help arrived in time.

Police, fire and ambulance commanders either froze, panicked or fell back on bureaucratic risk-assessment procedures.

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Following yesterday’s scathing report into the multiple failings of the emergency services, what a sick joke that sentiment now seems

Fire engines were actually ordered to drive three miles away from the scene to a distant, safe muster point, even as ambulances were heading in the opposite direction.

Yet paramedics on the spot were told not to enter the arena, despite the main foyer having been made safe within 19 minutes by armed anti-terror officers.

The fire brigade eventually turned up two hours and seven minutes after the bomb went off.

As the professionals were held back, against their visceral human instincts, volunteers did their best to tend to the wounded and comfort the dying.

No wonder inquiry chairman, retired High Court judge Sir John Saunders, said that he had heard from ‘a number of very angry firefighters who were ashamed of the fact they did not get to join in the rescue’.

We can and must exonerate those front-line first responders who were prevented from doing their job in the most harrowing circumstances.

No, the blame lies squarely with the officer class and the culture of corporate cowardice in which they operate.

Sir John’s conclusion that their response ‘fell far below the standard it should have been’ doesn’t even begin to describe the rabbit-in-the-headlights incompetence, neglect and dereliction of duty on parade that night.

Set aside the avoidable confusion, lack of communication and woefully inadequate preparation for a major terrorist incident, which resulted in just 11 of Manchester’s 319 ambulances being available immediately.

This was just the most recent, and most glaring example, of the institutionalised lack of courage built into the system at every level.

Police, fire and ambulance commanders either froze, panicked or fell back on bureaucratic risk-assessment procedures. Pictured: Manchester Arena Bombing inquiry report publication

What happened in Manchester was the inevitable consequence of more than two decades of slavish adherence to a suffocating and rigorously enforced elf’n’safety regime, which always prioritises the welfare of emergency service staff over that of those they are paid to rescue.

Once up a time, if you dialled 999 you were confident of a rapid response. No longer. Even if they do turn up, there’s no guarantee they’ll actually do anything to help.

Over the years, I have documented some of the more absurd interpretations of the so-called precautionary principle designed to elevate risk-assessment to holy writ.

In one of the most ludicrous examples, 25 firemen rushed to a pond in South London where a seagull was in distress, after getting tangled up in a plastic bag.

Once they arrived, however, they were told by their chief officer that they must not attempt to save the bird.

Even though the water was just 3ft deep, it was ruled that a rescue operation would be too dangerous.

So two dozen burly firefighters were forced to stand on the edge of the pond while a member of the public pulled on waders and fished out the unfortunate bird.

You might have thought this would be a source of embarrassment. Not a bit of it. The London Fire Brigade was unrepentant, insisting the health and safety of its employees must always take priority.

OK, so this may sound flippant. But what if it had been a human, not a seagull, in distress? Tragically, the same rules would apply.

We know this because a year earlier, more than a dozen emergency workers were refused permission on safety grounds to pull a drowning man called Simon Burgess, 41, from a 3ft-deep boating lake in Hampshire.

During the inquest into his death, a frustrated police officer said he had been told ‘under no circumstances’ to go to Mr Burgess’s aid.

In the immediate aftermath of Islamist nutjob Salman Abedi (pictured at Manchester Victoria making his way to the arena) detonating his deadly device, the dying and seriously injured were simply abandoned to their fate

In 2007, ten-year-old Jordon Lyon drowned in a pond while emergency service personnel were told to stand back because they didn’t have ‘water rescue’ training. And the following year. Karl Malton, 32, drowned in 18in of water in Lincolnshire, after a senior officer stopped his men climbing down a 15ft bank following another ‘risk assessment’.

The fire service has been especially emasculated. Fitness requirements were relaxed to encourage more women recruits. The traditional fireman’s lift was abandoned, just in case someone got hurt and ladders are being phased out and replaced by cherry pickers. Some forces have even banned firemen from training in artificial smoke.

But the other blue-light services aren’t immune. In North London, a 14-year-old girl died after falling during a cross-country run. Paramedics were refused permission to move her because the ground was considered too slippery.

The ‘too risky’ policy reached its nadir during the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London Transport network when survivors reported emerging from smoking Tube stations only to find firefighters refusing to go down into the tunnels because of health and safety concerns.

After the widespread loss of life in London, an official inquiry was established and we were assured, as we always are, that ‘lessons had been learned’.

In 2013, the Cabinet Office issued a 215-page ‘Emergency Response and Recovery Guide’. In the section devoted to terrorist incidents, the duty of the ambulance service should be:

‘The care and treatment of the injured is a high priority response objective with the preservation of life being the primary aim.’ It also says: ‘The primary role of a fire and rescue authority in an emergency is to extinguish any fire and rescue anyone trapped by fire, wreckage or debris.’

So far, so good. But preceding this advice is the guiding principle: ‘All agencies . . . remain responsible for the health and safety of their own staff.’

In Manchester, the multi-coloured Gold, Silver and Bronze Commanders all chose to prioritise the safety of their own staff over the pressing need to rescue terrified — primarily young, female — victims lying helpless, bleeding and dying on the floor.

Where in the Cabinet Office guidelines does it say it is the first duty of the fire brigade to retreat three miles from the frontline and stay there for more than two hours until the coast is clear?

It doesn’t, specifically. But the way it is interpreted by those who run every branch of so-called public services in Britain is that all risk must be eliminated under all circumstances. If in doubt, do nowt.

Doing nothing is the default option, even when the lives of those they are paid to serve are in danger.

Our emergency services really were the envy of the world once. But over the past 30-odd years they seem to have deliberately neglected their original raison d’etre.

Look back, be angry. Be very angry indeed. Richard Littlejohn is pictured

High Street police stations have been sold off and boarded up. Neighbourhood fire stations have disappeared at a similar rapid rate. Ambulance response times are an international disgrace.

Leftists lazily blame ‘austerity’ and ‘Tory cuts’ for the dismal performance of these essential services. Yet the police and the NHS, in particular, are awash with money. How they choose to spend it is another matter. They are more obsessed with showing obeisance to the latest fashionable political shibboleths than doing the job they are actually paid for.

These institutions, like the entire public sector, are now run almost exclusively for the convenience or benefit of those who work in them. Or, to be more accurate, those who run them.

I reiterate, I don’t blame the poor bloody infantry, like those brave firefighters seething at being told to stand down in Manchester, or the fine young police officers who sign up wanting to fight crime and help people.

The entire box-ticking, backside-covering system is rotten to the core. The top brass are only interested in pleasing their political masters and feathering their own nests.

Perhaps the most outrageous detail to emerge from the Saunders report is that Chief Inspector Dale Sexton, the senior police officer in charge of the woeful shambles on the night of the bombing, was subsequently awarded a medal for bravery.

I’m at a complete loss to know whether I should file that under You Couldn’t Make It Up or Mind How You Go.

He’s currently under investigation over claims he concealed information about his actions when he gave evidence to the inquiry.

Given the culture of cover-up which always follows such atrocities, we may never know the full truth.

The heads of all three emergency services have issued boilerplate apologies. I’m sure they are sincere. But seeing as none of them was in post at the time of the arena attacks and can’t possibly be held responsible, their words carry about as much weight as Tony’s Blair’s apology for the Irish potato famine, which happened over 100 years before he was born.

Lessons have been learned? No they haven’t. It won’t happen again? Yes it will. It always does.

Reading the report and watching the interviews with the bereaved family members was both heartbreaking and blood-boiling.

After the attack, there was the usual ‘nothing to see here, move along’ mentality promoted by the powers-that-be.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I brought you news that there were attempts to delete the name of the bomber from an official report on the grounds that it could provoke a ‘far-Right’ backlash and threaten community relations.

Yes, rage should be directed at Abedi, his facilitators and apologists. But also at the incompetence and failures of those we employ and trust to keep us safe and rescue us from danger.

I also drew your attention to a new song — Bonfire Of Teenagers — about the bombing and its aftermath by Morrissey, former lead singer of the Mancunian indie band The Smiths.

He told a shocked audience in Las Vegas that Manchester Arena was ‘Britain’s 9/11’.

How would Americans have reacted if they had discovered that far from rushing into the Twin Towers, the New York Fire Department had climbed into their fire trucks and legged it over the river to New Jersey?

Five years on from the arena attack, Morrissey is still fuming at the officially enouraged ‘culture of amnesia’, which followed it.

I wonder how he is going to react to that culture of amnesia being blown apart by the sickening revelations in the Saunders report. Especially that much more could have been done to comfort the injured and possibly save the lives of the dying.

Morrissey insists he won’t ever forgive or forget. After this devastating demolition of the emergency response, nor should the survivors or the bereaved families of the beautiful young people who perished.

Don’t Look Back In Anger? Don’t make me laugh.

Look back, be angry. Be very angry indeed.

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