Satnav led to 'nightmare' trip for Manchester Arena blast Wigan fire chief

Inquiry hears how fire service did not arrive at the Manchester Arena bombing until more than two hours after the explosion

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 3:36 pm
Senior firefighter Andy Berry
Senior firefighter Andy Berry

A senior firefighter who lived in Wigan “trusted in his satnav” as he got lost on a “nightmare journey” to a meeting point with colleagues that he had suggested, the Manchester Arena inquiry has been told.

About 10 minutes after the bomb blast that killed 22 people and injured hundreds of others, Andy Berry opted for Philips Park Fire Station, three miles away, as a rendezvous point for crews amid fears that a marauding armed terrorist may be on the loose.

His decision led to crews based in the city centre heading away from the Arena towards the east of the city as eventually firefighters took more than two hours to attend the incident, a public inquiry into the May 2017 attack heard.

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The drive from Mr Berry’s home in Wigan to Philips Park would normally take 35 minutes, with blue lights on, but, because of a number of roadworks, diversions took him to the outskirts of Knutsford, Cheshire, and the trip instead lasted 56 minutes.

He arrived at the same time as the final living casualty was being evacuated from the City Room foyer, where Salman Abedi detonated his bomb at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at 10.31pm on May 22.

Mr Berry was performing the tactical role of duty NILO (national inter-agency liaison officer) on the night, with responsibilities including giving advice to his commanders and other agencies.

He told the inquiry, sitting at Manchester Magistrates’ Court, that he was made aware before he set off that there were likely to be road closures.

He agreed with counsel to the inquiry Paul Greaney QC that he was “significantly hampered” by roadworks and was diverted from the route he had chosen.

Mr Greaney said: “The satnav took you along a number of winding country roads?”

Mr Berry replied: “It did.”

Mr Greaney said: “You didn’t really have the faintest idea where you were?”

Th witness said: “I didn’t.” The barrister went on: “And you just had to trust in your satnav?”

Mr Berry said: “I did.” He agreed it was a “moment of real stress and tension”.

Mr Greaney said: “I think it’s fair to say that these were not circumstances that were likely to aid dynamic decision-making, were they?” Mr Berry replied: “It was not helpful, no.”

During his journey, he repeatedly tried, without success, to contact Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) force duty officer, the initial commander of the incident, and also took calls from colleagues as he told them about his “nightmare journey”.

Mr Greaney said North West Fire Control rang Mr Berry at 10.57pm, by which time it had been informed that GMP officers were on the scene, along with an ambulance service commander, and that the injuries looked like shrapnel wounds rather than from gunshots, but the information was not passed on to him.

Asked what he would done then if he had that information, Mr Berry said: “Well, we would have quite clearly deployed probably straight to the Arena, proceeding with caution.”

Mr Berry also agreed that, had he remained at home, where he had access to work logs on his computer, he would have gained earlier situational awareness and again deployed to the scene earlier.

The inquiry was told that updates from the scene at about 11pm from British Transport Police and the first paramedic to enter the City Room also did not reach Mr Berry.

Mr Greaney put it to Mr Berry that an “extraordinary feature” of what went wrong on the night was that he and senior colleagues lacked situational awareness but firefighters waiting on the ground at Philips Park knew what was happening.

He said: “Is it fair to say this is an extraordinary state of affairs that the troops on the ground have situational awareness, that’s why they are so desperate to get there, and the bosses don’t?”

Mr Berry replied: “We were all desperate to get there and all frustrated on the night. That information was never shared with me.”

The hearing continues.

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