Manchester Arena Inquiry: Senior police officer was on unacceptable two-hour break

The most senior police officer on duty before the Manchester Arena attack had taken an “unacceptable” two-hour break before the bombing, the inquiry heard.

PC Jessica Bullough admitted she then missed bomber Salman Abedi walking from the train station into the arena.

The British Transport Police (BTP) officer had been qualified for only eight months, and was still in her probationary period.

The suicide bombing killed 22 people and injured many more on 22 May 2017.

The public inquiry into the attack heard there were no police officers on patrol when 22-year-old Abedi made his journey from Victoria Station to the arena foyer.

The hearing was told PC Bullough took a break of two hours and nine minutes, during which time Abedi walked from the tram stop into the City Room.

PC Bullough admitted her break should have been between 50 minutes and one hour.

The inquiry heard if she had come back 10 minutes earlier she would have seen Abedi carrying a large rucksack that contained explosives.

She said looking back, it was “unacceptable” to have taken a break of that length, and said she probably would not have done that had a supervisor been present.

PC Bullough was the first on the scene in the foyer after the suicide attack at the end of the Ariana Grande concert.

She said: “I think the training I had wasn’t sufficient to deal with what I was witnessing.”

Guy Gozem QC, representing some of the bereaved families, said: “Effectively did you feel left in the lurch?”

“Yes,” she replied.

BTP PCSO Lewis Brown said he and a colleague took a break before other officers had returned from theirs, meaning there were no one on patrol between just before 21:00 and 21:35 BST, when Abedi made his trip from the station into the foyer.

Meanwhile a father picking up his children on the night of the Manchester Arena attack told the inquiry he thought “straight away” that Abedi was a suicide bomber.

Neal Hatfield said when he saw Abedi in the foyer of the arena his rucksack did not look normal as it did not flex under his weight.

“It was rock solid, that’s what alarmed me straight away,” Mr Hatfield said.

Mr Hatfield was about to go up the stairs to the mezzanine area of the arena’s City Room when he saw Abedi with his back to him “in the process of lying down, he had a backpack on the floor next to him”.

“I thought suicide bomber straight away, very little doubt in my mind. Honestly, my heart was racing,” he said.

“The way he was dressed, the way he was acting, the body language was that he was trying to protect the bag. He was pretending to be casual, but I could see what he was doing.”

Mr Hatfield said he made eye contact with Abedi, who looked “emotionally distressed”.

“He seemed frightened, his eyes were glazed over and he seemed nervous, agitated, he didn’t seem right,” he added.

Mr Hatfield told the inquiry he saw two members of the security team nearby and believed they were having a conversation about Abedi, and gesturing towards him.

The inquiry continues.

Wrong person jailed over M1 smart motorway deaths claims widow

The widow of a man who was killed when a lorry ploughed into his stationary car on a smart motorway has said the wrong person has been jailed.

Alexandru Murgeanu and Jason Mercer died when Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into their vehicles on a section of the M1 without a hard shoulder.

At Sheffield Crown Court earlier, Szuba, 40, was jailed for 10 months.

But Mr Mercer’s wife Claire said “the events….would not have taken place if there had been a hard shoulder”.

Szuba, of Adelaide Street, Hull, previously admitted two counts of causing death by driving without due care and attention on 7 June 2019.

Since her husband’s death, Mrs Mercer has mounted a campaign against smart motorways.

Speaking outside court, she said: “We don’t believe the correct person is taking responsibility for this massive detrimental effect on ours and so many other people’s lives.

“The events of [that day] would not have taken place if there had been a hard shoulder and Highways England was run with the correct priorities in mind.”

Referring to a review of smart motorways, she said: “An agenda genuinely concerned with avoiding future deaths is not served by a pretend review… that wouldn’t have saved any of 40-plus people killed by smart motorways, or by jailing the wrong person.

“My hope in this devastation is that no more lives are ruined needlessly.”

The court heard 44-year-old Mr Mercer, from Rotherham, and Mr Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, had stopped in the slow lane after having a “minor bump” on the northbound carriageway of the M1, between junctions 34 and 35.

Judge Jeremy Richardson QC said: “Had there been a hard shoulder, or had the victims driven on for another mile to the refuge, this catastrophe would never have occurred.”

But he told Szuba: “There must be no doubt, however, that the main cause of this fatal crash was your inattention to the road ahead of you.”

Jeremy Evans, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said the two men’s vehicles had been stationary for almost six minutes, during which time many other drivers had passed by safely.

“There is no reason why the defendant should not have appreciated the danger that lay ahead, as other drivers had done,” he added.

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A Highways England spokesperson said: “We are deeply saddened by the deaths of Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu and extend our sympathies to both their families and friends.

“We appreciate that this continues to be an unimaginably difficult time for them and understand the strength of feeling around this case.

“Every road death is a needless loss of life and we must do all that we can to keep our roads safe.”

A review published in March found smart motorways were as safe as, or safer than, conventional motorways, Highways England said.

Edmund OLeary: I am not OK tweet sparks global response

A father of two who tweeted that he was “not OK” has said the outpouring of support he received after his post went viral has given him hope.

Edmund O’Leary said he was feeling “really depressed” after a “horrible year” when he posted his message.

His tweet on Friday night read: “I am not OK. Feeling rock bottom. Please take a few seconds to say hello if you see this tweet. Thank you.”

Within minutes, he began receiving messages from around the world.

Since then, Mr O’Leary, from Epsom, Surrey, has been retweeted more than 14,000 times and received more than 300,000 likes.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The whole experience has been absolutely surreal and provides me with a lot of hope.

“I’ve gone from feeling like a nobody to feeling like a somebody.

“To have that happen overnight is just surreal, something that most ordinary people have never experienced or will never experience.”

He added: “Eighteen and a half million people and counting have seen my tweet. Nothing can prepare you for that!”

It was a friend’s tweets of a similar nature that inspired him to reach out to his followers.

“I was feeling very depressed, feeling rock bottom. I’m having an absolutely horrible year. I thought I’d give it a go,” he said.

The many messages of support he has received include some from celebrities.

BBC correspondent Fergal Keane reminded him that “morning always comes” in a tweet with a recording of a poem by the late John O’Donohue which he had read on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Meanwhile, CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who has 2.7m followers, also sent his support alongside a picture of two kittens.

He tweeted: “Edmund. I bought my mom two kittens after her beloved cat of 19 years died. Here’s one of them, Lulu, playing. Things get better. They always do.”

Mr O’Leary, an aviation enthusiast, said the first tweet he found “warm and loving” came from Dublin Airport.

Staff there told him: “You are not alone. So many people are feeling exactly that way at the minute. Never forget that you are loved & there are people who care about you.”

Matt Hancock seen in chauffeur-driven car without mask

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been seen travelling in his chauffeur-driven car without wearing a mask, against the advice of No 10.

The public face fines of £200 if they fail to wear a covering in taxis or private hire cars.

There is an exemption for chauffeur-driven cars, but Downing Street said it had advised all its ministers to wear coverings.

A No 10 spokesman said there were masks available in all ministerial cars.

The picture was first published on the Daily Mirror website.

It shows the health secretary arriving at the Department for Health and Social Care on Monday without a mask.

The BBC understands Mr Hancock had been wearing a mask on the journey, but removed it as his car approached the department.

Asked later whether the minister would be reprimanded for going against the advice, the prime minister’s official spokesman said he had not seen the photo.

He added: “On the general point, we set out at the time that we were making face coverings available in all ministerial cars so that ministers would be able to wear them.”

Essex lorry deaths: Witness called police three times about migrants

A woman called police three times about people jumping out of a lorry less than two weeks before the deaths of 39 migrants, a court has heard.

Four men are on trial at the Old Bailey in connection with the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese nationals.

They suffocated in a lorry trailer as they were transported from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet on 23 October 2019.

Marie Andrews said she saw about 15 migrants outside her mobile home in Orsett, Essex, on 11 October last year.

Prosecutors claim it was one of two “successful” people-smuggling runs before the 39 deaths.

Giving evidence, Ms Andrews said she dialled 999 on 11 October after her partner Stewart Cox left for work and found a lorry and four cars in their lane.

She told the operator “a load of immigrants just got out of a lorry into Mercs”.

Ms Andrews said: “I saw some legs come out. It was a shock, like anybody would be shocked to see this, particularly down a lane people would not know.”

She went on to call the non-emergency number 101 twice, the court heard.

Jurors previously heard from Mr Cox who said he had seen 10 to 20 people “with rucksacks” run from a lorry towards four cars.

Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, deny the manslaughters of 39 Vietnamese people, aged between 15 and 44.

Mr Harrison, of Mayobridge, County Down, Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, deny being part of a people-smuggling conspiracy, which Mr Nica has admitted.

Jurors have been told four others have admitted a role in the people-smuggling ring.

The trial continues.

Grenfell Tower inquiry: Refurbishment notebooks binned

A project manager on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has admitted she “binned” notebooks relating to her work, after the deadly fire at the building.

Claire Williams told a public inquiry she thought the information was “documented elsewhere” and not needed.

The inquiry chairman said it was hard to understand why she had “taken it upon herself” to do such a thing.

It comes after her former colleague disclosed notebooks with “material of the utmost relevance” only last week.

The first phase of the Grenfell inquiry concluded that cladding put on during the refurbishment fuelled the fire in June 2017 in which 72 people died.

The inquiry is now examining how the blaze could have happened in the first place.

Police searched the offices of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) and took away material from the desks of staff after the blaze.

While the inquiry has access to official emails and minutes of meetings, hand-written notes could reveal more detail about decisions taken during the refurbishment of the tower.

Ms Williams told the inquiry she left the job in May 2018 and lawyers for her former employers have possession of a notebook covering “probably 2017 and 2018”.

But she said she may have thrown out “two or three notebooks” containing records dating back to 2013, explaining: “If the police didn’t take them, I binned them.”

Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick asked: “You binned them even though you knew, by that time, there was already on foot a public inquiry?”

Ms Williams said: “I think I just tidied up the desk. I would have looked at them and thought ‘There’s nothing here that isn’t in formal evidence’.”

She told the inquiry: “There was nothing underhand about it. I was clearing my desk, I looked and decided that everything that was in there was formally represented in minutes or other paperwork and it was of little value.”

She said: “It wasn’t a conscious, hiding anything decision, it was ‘I’m clearing my desk’. I put them in the bin.”

Earlier, counsel for the inquiry, Richard Millett QC, said he would be questioning Ms William’s former colleague Peter Madison on Tuesday.

He said Mr Madison, former head of assets and regeneration at the TMO, needs to give “clear and convincing explanations” of why his notebooks and diaries had not been been disclosed to the inquiry, and possibly the police, until now.

The material, including 300 pages of handwritten notes, was handed over at the weekend after Mr Madison heard the evidence of colleagues and realised they might be of value.

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