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  1. ITV Report

Police chief criticises 'entirely inappropriate' Manchester Arena documentary

A BBC documentary about the Manchester Arena terror attack has been labelled "wholly inaccurate" and a piece of "journalistic drama" by the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police.

'Manchester: The Night of the Bomb' was broadcast on BBC Two to mark the first anniversary of the attack, which left 22 people dead.

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Greater Manchester Police's Ian Hopkins said the programme had been "entirely misleading" in its depiction of police actions on the night of the bombing:

The programme, at least by inference, wrongly suggested that GMP officers and staff were held back on the night of the attack. This is untrue and is an unwarranted attack on GMP police officers who, as the actual footage showed, acted bravely in response to this horrific attack.

At no point were GMP officers and staff held back and they were immediately deployed to the Arena to save life and protect people

– Ian Hopkins, GMP
Ian Hopkins said he wanted to Credit: PA

Chief Constable Hopkins also raised concerns about the "explicit" content of the documentary - which included mobile phone footage of the aftermath - and said requests to view the footage in advance in order to prepare and support the victims' families were denied.

In an open letter, he wrote: "I fail to see any public interest in footage of such an explicit nature being aired with disregard to the feelings of those who matter most. Whether families wish to view such footage is a private matter and is not something that should be publicly aired on national television taking away any choice.

Some families are left with the question - is this my loved one on the floor?

– Ian Hopkins, GMP

Ian Hopkins also criticised the documentary for implying the force had "refused to cooperate" without giving the context.

He said Greater Manchester Police "respectfully" declined to take part in the programme - citing the legal constraints of an ongoing investigation into the attack.

The BBC said those affected Credit: PA

In response, the BBC said the programme was "a responsible, accurate and thoughtful documentary, which was an important piece of public service broadcasting".

A spokesperson added that 'Manchester: The Night of the Bomb' adhered to BBC Guidelines, and was developed alongside Victim Support.

"The sensitivities of all those involved in this tragic event were subject to careful consideration throughout the production process".

At no point did the documentary suggest GMP officers and staff were held back.

It focussed on the events of the evening and how they unfolded, not any ongoing investigations.

– BBC statement

On the "graphic" nature of the content, the BBC added that the footage of the scene inside the arena was 12 seconds long and was heavily blurred.

A spokesperson said they did not imply GMP had "refused to cooperate" - only that they declined to take part.

The BBC also disputed that they implied "that GMP officers and staff were held back" - saying an on-screen caption showed GMP armed police entered the Arena 11 minutes after the bomb.

Read the open letter from GMP's Chief Constable in full:

On the anniversary of the Manchester Arena Attack, the BBC chose to air a documentary which attempted to describe and depict the events of this terrible evening. Our first priority now and at the time of the attack 12 months ago was to support the families. I am saddened by the impact this documentary has had on families and survivors at such a difficult time.

I want to set the record straight about why Greater Manchester Police declined to participate with the production of this documentary and to correct what we consider to be wholly inaccurate reporting.

The programme, at least by inference, wrongly suggested that GMP officers and staff were held back on the night of the attack. This is untrue and is an unwarranted attack on GMP police officers who, as the actual footage showed, acted bravely in response to this horrific attack.

At no point were GMP officers and staff held back and they were immediately deployed to the Arena to save life and protect people. In fact, GMP's Force Duty Officer made a decision not to withdraw officers contrary to national plans, a decision highlighted as courageous in the Independent Review into the response to the attack conducted by Lord Kerslake.

I want to make it clear that Greater Manchester Police working within the framework of the National Counter Terrorism Network have had primacy over the response to the attack from the moment the attack occurred and the ongoing live criminal investigation. This is not made clear in the documentary and the style of reporting of this is entirely misleading.

As the lead police force, for the response and the criminal investigation, GMP has significant constraints on what we can discuss publicly. The production company approached GMP in Autumn 2017 and after a face-to-face meeting we respectfully explained in detail the legal constraints we worked under and highlighted to the production company their own responsibilities. The production company approached us again sometime later and we reaffirmed this constraint and again declined to participate.

It is within this context that the reference at the end of the programme that GMP refused to cooperate, is wholly misleading and was focused only on creating journalistic drama rather than accurately portraying the constraints we have repeatedly highlighted.

We became aware, just days before the anniversary, that the documentary was going to be broadcast and this came from a third party who disclosed the potential content of the programme. At this point, we expressed to the BBC our very serious concerns for the families, especially in relation to any footage of the scene that would show victims regardless of whether these were blurred out or not.

We also explained again that GMP is leading a live murder investigation and a warrant was issued in October for the arrest of a suspect. We explained this means proceedings have started and as such we are very mindful of undermining a prosecution. In addition to this, we pointed out that there is an ongoing coronial process and we are again very clear that we should not make comment on matters within the jurisdiction of HM Senior Coroner.

We asked repeatedly to view the footage so that we could work with the CPS, Coroner and our own family liaison officers to assess what legal implications it may have, but most importantly so that we could inform and support families. We were not permitted to do this at any point before broadcast. Consequently the first time the investigation team saw the documentary was at the time of its broadcast last night.

In the recent independent review into the response to the Arena attack from Lord Kerslake he voiced specific concerns over the conduct of the media in the aftermath of this tragedy and this documentary serves, in my view, to further illustrate the media’s irresponsibility. This documentary, in our view failed to accurately depict the events of the night, and is a partial reconstruction at best. The production company no doubt will say that organisations were offered the chance to cooperate and they chose not to, but these very organisations have an overriding duty to families and the courts and so cannot cooperate with a production company whose only aim is to provide newsworthy viewing at the expense of the families, coronial process and indeed a criminal trial.

Most importantly when I became aware of the content of this documentary, my staff and I were most deeply concerned about the impact on families of viewing this footage. I fail to see any public interest in footage of such an explicit nature being aired with disregard to the feelings of those who matter most. Whether families wish to view such footage is a private matter and is not something that should be publicly aired on national television taking away any choice. Some families are left with the question - is this my loved one on the floor?.

Before the broadcast, I am aware that the CPS and the Coroner expressed serious reservations. I am also aware that having understood the potential enormity of the impact of the programme British Transport Police withdrew support and refused the BBC authority to use the material. Despite all this the broadcast went ahead.

The duty of Greater Manchester Police is to support the families, search for evidence of what happened and present this evidence objectively to the courts. This takes time, there is an ongoing extradition process; good reason for us being unable to provide detail. Thankfully the vast majority of the media understand and respect this. The broadcast of this programme and the material within it appears to breach the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines.

This documentary however, is in our view entirely inappropriate and I deeply regret the impact the actions of the production company and the BBC may have on those who matter most - the victims’ families and survivors of one of the worst terrorist attacks this country has ever seen.

Yours sincerely

Ian Hopkins, Chief Constable, Greater Manchester Police

Read the BBC's response:

The production company worked constructively and appropriately with Victim Support, and the sensitivities of all those involved in this tragic event were subject to careful consideration throughout the production process.

This was a responsible, accurate and thoughtful documentary which was an important piece of public service broadcasting. The programme team took considerable care to minimise offence whilst accurately portraying the severity of events.