The mother of one of the Manchester Arena bombing victims has called for a law requiring enhanced security at entertainment venues to be brought in “urgently” before another attack.
Campaigning by Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett was killed in the 2017 attack, has sparked a government consultation on a new legal requirement for minimum standards of protection.
The “Protect duty”, also known as Martyn’s Law, received vocal backing from the chair of the Manchester Arena public inquiry this week, who said that serious violations should be punished with imprisonment.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” Sir John Saunders said as he released a report finding numerous opportunities to prevent the attack or reduce the death toll were missed.
Watch: Manchester Arena bombing public inquiry finds 'missed opportunities' to prevent attack
Ms Murray told The Independent that the government should take the judge’s remarks seriously and “speed things up”.
“Terrorists have not used the pandemic to bake banana bread and do jigsaws, they have spent it planning and recruiting, and we can’t be complacent,” she said.
“The threat level is high and people are going out to socialise more.”
A public consultation on the Protect duty, which closes on 2 July, is seeking views on the scope of the law, but the government has not set a timetable for its enforcement.
Ms Murray, who is studying for a master’s degree in counter-terrorism, said it must be “urgent”, adding: “We can’t rely on police, counter-terrorism and the government to sort all the terrorists out, it’s not possible, so measures have to be taken to keep people safe.”
We can’t rely on police, counter-terrorism and the government to sort all the terrorists out, it’s not possible, so measures have to be taken to keep people safeFigen Murray, campaigner and mother of terror attack victim
The government’s consultation proposed that the duty should apply to venues with a capacity of 100 people or over, or to organisations that employ over 250 staff and operate at publicly accessible locations.
Sir John called for the government to ensure that a “high standard of protective security” is required for venues as large as the Manchester Arena and for “rigorous and robust enforcement”, including jail sentences for serious breaches.
Ms Murray backed the call, adding: “If people don’t take it seriously enough I think it should be enforced. It’s a serious matter, people die.”
Nick Aldworth, who led the “protect and prepare” strand of national counter-terrorism policing until his retirement in May 2019, said there had already been “unnecessary delay”.
Watch: First report is out of inquiry into Manchester Arena attack
“We’re now four years beyond the Manchester Arena bombing and we were calling for this law as early as 2017,” he told The Independent.
“The Home Office needs to put sufficient resource on the problem to accelerate the process and I would like to see the proposed legislation this year. I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t happen.”
The government initially refused Ms Murray’s call for standardised security measures at hospitality venues, responding to a petition in February 2019 to say “appropriate and proportionate” precautions were already in place and there were “no plans to mandate specific security measures”.
Ministers performed a U-turn months later and the consultation on the Protect duty was announced in February.
Mr Aldworth said that he was among senior counter-terror police officers who were calling for a similar law to be developed in 2017 and 2018.
“This didn’t come on to the government’s radar until a grieving mother went public with her concerns,” he added.
“Protect and prepare is the most under-funded part of counter-terror policing, most money goes into ‘pursue’ because that deals with the most imminent threat.”
Mr Aldworth said police currently have no legal powers to erect security measures on private land or in public spaces without the owners’ permission, and the new duty would be a “game-changer”.
He acknowledged that attacks could be displaced, but said if the law is applied properly, venues will be on an equal footing.
Mr Aldworth pointed to the 2015 Paris attacks, where armed suicide bombers were able to massacre 90 victims at the unprotected Bataclan concert hall, but only killed themselves and one passer-by after being prevented from entering the packed Stade de France by security checks.
Around a year before the Manchester Arena bombing, an Isis-supporting suicide bomber killed only himself after being turned away from a German music festival.
“It’s about identifying the greatest vulnerability and mitigating it,” Mr Aldworth said.
“None of us are saying Martyn’s Law will stop terror attacks, it won’t, but it will stop the excesses of casualties.”
The Home Office said it would consider Sir John’s recommendations on the Protect duty alongside responses in the public consultation.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, added: “I am extremely grateful to Figen Murray and her tireless campaigning for ‘Martyn’s Law’, following the devastating loss of her son in the attack, ensuring that venues and public spaces put the safety and security of the public first.”
Watch: Manchester Arena Inquiry - Figen Murray speaks outside court