With an independent inquiry into the Manchester Arena terrorist attack ongoing, Access talks to the mother of bombing victim Martyn Hett about her hopes for the inquiry and the government-backed proposed legislation that has become known as ‘Martyn’s Law’. We also hear from Nick Aldworth, a former counter terrorism national coordinator, about the long process involved in helping to bring Martyn’s Law to the brink of it becoming legislation.
Since her son Martyn was murdered in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack on 22 May 2017, Figen Murray has staged a long, determined and impressive campaign for improved security at venues. Along the way she has won many supporters, not least the government.
Murray explains that ‘Martyn’s Law’ was created with the aim of achieving a coherent and proportionate approach to security at venues of all sizes, one that should not be cost prohibitive. For small venues it could just mean an addition to the fire plan, for bigger more complex venues it would require a more holistic approach.
She says, “I wouldn’t ask a small cafe or theatre to have airport-style security but I would expect theatres to have bag searches, and a cafe to at least have a risk assessment to make sure that if somebody comes through the front door to attack customers that staff know how to get people out quickly and safely.”
Murray has been told that due to the weight of the evidence involved, the Manchester Arena Inquiry could run until May. It started on 7 September. She is hoping the inquiry will result in the recommendation that ‘Martyn’s Law’ is passed into legislation.
“It would be devastating for me and the other victims’ families if the inquiry process was forced to come to a halt due to Covid-19,” she says.
Just as the virus is threatening to temporarily derail the inquiry, the Covid-19 lockdown measures introduced in March saw the start of a planned ‘Martyn’s Law’ government consultation process – the first step toward it becoming law – postponed.
“The consultation is meant to start again soon but I have a feeling Covid-19 is going to get in the way and delay it yet again,” says Murray.
Having spoken at numerous conferences, Murray has found the security industry and events organisers to be very supportive of ‘Martyn’s Law’: “How can you not be? It is complete common sense, it is not expensive, and it will help to save lives. Even if it results in slightly higher ticket prices, as a mother I would happily pay an extra £2 or £3 as a security levy.”
Nick Aldworth director of consultancy Risk to Resolution, who was the Metropolitan Police Services Counter Terrorism Protective Security Lead at the time of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge & Borough Market terrorist attacks in 2017, recounts the journey so far.
Towards the end of June 2017, a letter arrived at New Scotland Yard. It had come from the Home Secretary’s office and was from a young woman who had been caught up in the London Bridge and Borough Market terrorist attack on the evening of 3 June that year.
The woman described her horrific experience of being caught up in the attack and how it had been made worse by nobody around her knowing what they should do. Unbeknown to her at the time, this letter kickstarted counter-terrorism policing’s campaign for legislative change that would require owners and operators of publicly accessible places and spaces to do more to protect their customers.
To start with, the Home Office was none too keen to consider new legislation. It was still reeling from three terrorist attacks in only a few months and the challenges of preparing the police and security services for more to come, which of course they did. Nobody had time or appetite for new legislation, especially as it was unclear what that might include. Twenty-seventeen was a year of fire fighting not a year of thinking too far ahead.
A little over a year later Figen Murray, the mother of Martyn Hett who was murdered at the Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017, visited me at New Scotland Yard. She had come to share her concerns about a visit she had made to a theatre in Manchester during which there had been no security checks of people entering the building. I was terrified at the prospect of meeting Figen. I thought she might be angry at me, a representative of the State, for the loss of her son. I was worried about how to relate to someone who had been through something so traumatic that I could barely comprehend it. I quickly found that Figen and I were completely in tune with each other and while I couldn’t influence legislative change, I could help her campaign in Manchester. I also found a new friend.
I sent a letter to Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester who she was about to meet, saying that her plan for a local code of practice to get businesses in Manchester to be more responsible for their customers, was one that I fully supported. Not long after this I retired and decided to join forces with Figen and Brendan Cox, the husband of Jo Cox MP who had been brutally murdered in 2015, and support a professionally organised campaign for change.
We each had things to bring to the campaign. Figen’s personal experience, her persistence and clarity of message meant that people wanted to listen. Brendan brought political contacts and campaigning knowledge that were second to none. I was able to bring some technical knowledge about the art of the possible and the things that were missing from the UK Counter-Terrorism Strategy (CONTEST). Together we campaigned for the Protect Duty in the name and memory of Martyn, and that is how we came to be the Martyn’s Law campaign.
A conservative leadership campaign and general election in 2019 meant that there was political interest in making improvements to the system. We managed to get each of the four main candidates for the leadership position to endorse the campaign and subsequently, through the brilliant support of Brandon Lewis, the then Security Minister, got it incorporated into the Conservative Party manifesto. The Conservative win meant that Martyn’s Law could now become a possibility.
The first stage of the legislative process, consultation, was due to start in March 2020 but was stalled because of the coronavirus crisis. The government remains committed to undertaking consultation on a law that should not be burdensome in terms of time or cost, to businesses. There is potential for the consultation to start in a matter of weeks although the ongoing health crisis is understandably occupying the governments attention at the moment.
Our message to all businesses in the UK is to keep your eyes open for the consultation and to participate in it when the opportunity arises. We owe it to all those people who have been victims of terrorism to do all that is reasonable to stop it from happening again. Martyn’s Law will do that.