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Mark Rowe

Martyn’s Law

How hard it is to stand against a grieving mother, who speaks of wishing for ‘recognition and deep respect for the bereaved families and the hundreds of injured people’; and to question whether the UK has a need for Martyn’s Law. Yet it seems that someone has to, because – oddly long after the May 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack – the Home Office minister Brandon Lewis has said that he, Home Secretary Priti Patel and PM Boris Johnson are ‘100 per cent’ behind Martyn’s Law.

Briefly, Martyn’s Law is a call by Figen Murray, mother of Martyn Hett, one of the victims of the May 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack, for venue-specific security. She has spoken to security audiences, such as at the International Security Expo 2019 at Olympia. For more, see the report on the ISE website.

In brief, she asks for ‘basic security procedures so that every venue and public space has a plan. Of course, what this would look like will be dependent on the venue and the circumstances. Martyn’s Law doesn’t advocate a one size fits all approach, it’s all about having a plan relevant to the threat. It seems absurd to me that we have legislation that sets out how many toilets a venue must have and how food must be prepared, but nothing that holds those same venues responsible for having basic security in place.’ She asks for ‘simple common sense security’ to ‘make it much harder to inflict mass casualties’.

After years of central government taken up with Brexit, it appears that Westminster can now attend to other matters, such as this. As is Manchester; the City Council’s Executive says it will ‘act on proposals that will enshrine the principles of Martyn’s Law into future regulations to ensure the safety of all Manchester residents’. As the council goes on to admit, it can only review the way it licences venues.

Nigel Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “The tireless work that has been carried out by Figen is a fitting tribute to not just the memory of her son Martyn, but to all of the other victims of the Manchester terror attack. We are proud to work with Figen to lead the way on bringing in an improved culture of safety in this country, but we need the Government to take action. Only they have the power to get Martyn’s Law onto the statute books and we hope it treats her campaign as a priority.

“We can never bring back those who were cruelly taken from us, but, by making small yet significant changes we may be able to prevent future loss of life. This is an aim that we can all rally around.”

In practice the council is suggesting that venues carry out vulnerability assessments; and have a counter-terrorism plan.

In fairness, some venues at least (and who can say how many?) are working, according to ‘back of a fag packet’ site risk assessments and plans, as one security man put it to me last year. In other words, sites are ‘winging it’ with security and are only found out when something goes wrong. Although, it is only proper to add here that the Kerslake Inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack pointed to shortcomings in the fire service response and tele-communications, rather than the contracted security and stewarding. But no-one is suggesting a law to remedy the fact that firemen took hours to turn up at the scene.

An independent public inquiry to investigate the deaths of the victims is due; hearings begin in April.

Either a Martyn’s Law would not be applied, and is to no purpose, which would be cynical and wicked. Or it is applied; inspected for; regulated; and people who do not meet it are punished; fined, as under health and safety law. By whom, the Health and Safety Executive, or some new authority? And who is going to pay for it? You can be sure that venues are not going to take less profit; so it will mean concert tickets cost more; a pint of beer more. Against a terror attack that, statistically, is not going to come to your pub; shopping centre; cinema; football ground; or airport.

Martyn’s Law has been taken up by others; such as the former counter-terrorism chief, the recently-retired Chief Supt Nick Aldworth. In that report on the ISE website he spoke of wanting Martyn’s Law as ‘a key part of delivering the UK’s wider Counter Terrorism Strategy 2018 (CONTEST)’, the ‘the last piece of the legislative jigsaw’ for counter-terror public safety, needed because of the ‘paradigm shift in the nature of terrorism’ as seen in such suicide attacks as Manchester Arena. Martyn’s Law, he implies, would apply to 650,000 crowded places.

Aldworth details that such a law should require public ‘spaces and places’ to engage with terrorism advice and training; conduct vulnerability assessments; have a mitigation plan for vulnerabilities; and have a counter-terrorism plan. This isn’t costed by him (while saying for example that for ‘many mitigations, there is no cost or low cost’).

Figen Murray has written of how venues seemed not to learn the lesson of May 2017: “It felt as if what happened in Manchester on that fateful night had been forgotten.” In truth visible security did not change – venues did not add airport-style x-ray scanners – because, thankfully, there was no need; suicide bomb attacks are thankfully exceptions. Venues, as after the Paris-Bataclan and Stade de France terror attacks of November 2015, such as football stadia and theatres, asked their security experts what needed to be done, and the sensible ones reassured their sites that nothing extra or new, necessarily, was needed; because to add pat-downs, bag searches to a new threat that wasn’t necessarily there, was not only unnecessary, but made a rod for your back. If you suddenly added security because of an attack – no matter how upsetting and evil – either the extra security measures stayed, long after the original cause had passed, or were taken away quietly when the event memory had passed, which would beg the question why have the extra security in the first place. On what grounds would security be added or taken away? None, except the wish to be seen to do something.

Which is what, unless applied sensibly, Martyn’s Law would amount to. If plans and assessments are demanded of venues that don’t particularly require them, they become a tick-box exercise; they are not taken seriously; and actually get in the way of doing security, and give security a bad name.