Last night’s Panorama special focused on the youngest victim of the Manchester Arena bombing. As well as exploring the heartbreaking true story, there were some key takeaways from the BBC One documentary.
As the fifth anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing approaches, BBC One’s new Panorama episode explores the heartbreaking story of its youngest victim, Saffie-Rose Roussos.
Saffie was just eight at the time of the 2017 Ariana Grande concert bombing and lost her life in the attack. Her parents – and many other families – are still searching for answers. In Panorama, Manchester Bombing: Saffie’s Story, her family ask whether Saffie could have survived the attack. Were there wider failings around the bombing that could have been minimised? Should emergency service responses be scrutinised?
The public inquiry around the attack has offered little to no solace for many of the affected families, but in this documentary, we get a window into some of the crucial questions and lessons that should be learned from this devastating event.
Here are five of the most important takeaways from the recent Panorama episode.
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1. £3 billion a year is spent in this country on counter-terrorism
In 2017, Lord Anderson was asked by the government to review the handling of Salman Abedi, the bomber responsible for the attack. Anderson was given access inside MI5 and sits down with Saffie’s father, Andrew, to discuss the systemic failings that could have contributed to the severity of the bombing.
He’s as honest as he can be (in light of the ongoing investigation) but reveals the extensive resources that are put towards counter-terrorism in the UK. He reveals that £3 billion a year is spent on counter-terrorism efforts but concludes that in the case of Abedi and the Manchester Arena bombing, “that night, it didn’t work”.
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2. There were “gaps in the way intelligence was shared between agencies”, which led to an oversight around Abedi’s actions
Although Abedi was known to intelligence services, the information different agencies had on him wasn’t freely shared. Lord Anderson’s review found that there were oversights in the way crucial information on Abedi’s movements was passed between agencies and the police.
For instance, Abedi exchanged 1,300 messages with a “fellow extremist” who was convicted on terrorism charges. Lord Anderson’s 2017 report found that there were “gaps in the way intelligence was shared between agencies” and it was something that recommendations had previously been made about because it wasn’t working.
3. Some parts of the inquiry have been held in secret, which only adds to the questions victims’ families have surrounding the attack
Although the inquiry around the Manchester Arena bombing is public, some evidence given by the security services to the inquiry has been held in secret due to national security. Families, including Saffie’s, say it’s made it hard to know if more could have been done to prevent the attack.
Andrew understands but also still wants important questions answered. He asks: “Why weren’t you more prepared? Why weren’t things changed from 7/7? Why do we keep losing loved ones?”
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4. There was an undeniable “catastrophic breakdown in communication” within the emergency services
Some of the most shocking facts to come out of the Panorama episode are those surrounding the response times after the bombing. These details form the basis of Saffie’s family’s search for answers because they believe that the outcome could have been different if appropriate systems were in place.
Only three paramedics made it into the blast zone and it was two hours before the fire service arrived – after the last casualty had been taken out of the arena. The solicitor for the Roussos family, Nicola Brook, explains that the eight-year-old was conscious for an hour – “she was able to talk, ask questions” – but her bleeding was “not noticed” and was allowed to continue, which led to her body shutting down.
“The basic medical techniques that could and should have been used weren’t,” she explains.
The documentary also explores the “breakdown in communication between the emergency services” which led to “arena workers and members of the public [who] were left to help the injured inside the foyer.”
While there was a “catastrophic breakdown in communication” within the Greater Manchester police force, Andrew doesn’t necessarily want to blame people, he simply wants to “scrutinise everybody to the point of getting to the truth”.
5. The findings from the public inquiry will be published later this year, but that won’t stop Saffie’s family from pushing for the truth
Saffie’s parents, Lisa and Andrew, are devastated by the events of 2017 but still persist in their search for the truth.
This Panorama episode marks the first time they’ve spoken publicly about their experience, which included Andrew being told by police officers to “have a look around” for his daughter after the bombing. He explains how he “just went from person on the floor to person on the floor” in search of Saffie.
Giving her statement in the inquiry, Lisa states: “We understand the sheer panic you were faced with that night but until you admit the failings, how can there be a positive change?”
Panorama, Manchester Bombing: Saffie’s Story is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.
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