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‘Survivors are forever haunted by seeing lives lost and being left alone for so long – lessons must be learned over security and rescue planning’

9 min read time

Survivor Ruth Murrell says life for her family has been ‘forever changed’ after being involved in the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.

Ruth and her daughter Emily, who was 12 at the time, were both badly injured in the attack, spending weeks in hospital afterwards and needing to undergo numerous operations to remove shrapnel from their bodies.

They survived but witnessed sheer horror unfold before their eyes.

Ruth’s friend, who she was standing with when the bomb went off, was killed instantly as shrapnel hit her straight in her head – losing her life in front of her own 12-year-old daughter.

In agonising pain and fearing they may die too, Ruth and Emily then waited and waited for the emergency services to come and take them to safety. That help never arrived.

It is an experience which Ruth says has not only left them both psychologically scarred for life but also their loved ones.

She says her eldest daughter, Jessica, has since suffered from ‘survivor guilt’ and needed counselling, as she gave up her ticket for the concert to allow her younger sister Emily to be able to attend with a friend.

Her husband Dave also had to give up his job which involved lots of travelling to be with his daughters and wife, too afraid to leave them alone and realising he needed them by their side at all times.

He also needed counselling himself to help him better understand the trauma his family was undergoing and to be able to better support them as the family together tried to pick up the pieces of their lives.

It has been so, so hard, but we’re not alone. This attack impacted on so many peoples’ lives and it was so incredibly tragic.

The lives not only of myself and Emily, but of our entire family, have been forever changed by what happened that night, and I am sure that is the same for each and every family affected.

Many people lost loved ones, and of course, there is no worse impact than that, but survivors are forever haunted by what happened and what they saw. It was awful. We’ve all had to try and move on as best as we can, but it will never go away.

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Public Inquiry must be a catalyst for changes

Following major criticisms of both the security on the night and the emergency service response in the findings of Public Inquiry Chairman Sir John Saunders, Ruth, of Ribble Valley, Lancashire, says she hopes vital lessons are now learned.

If we are being realistic we have to accept that events such as this are going to be targeted again. We’re not going to stop terrorists targeting large events, but we have to be better at preventing them, and responding to them if they do happen.

What happened on the night at Manchester Arena was a shambles, just shocking. We all know now that so many errors were made. We can’t change the past, but we must ensure that lessons are learned and that the right changes are made in the future.

The security has to be so much better, the preparation and planning to respond has to be better, and the organisation of our emergency services must not be hindered by red tape like they were. They are emergency and rescue services, and must be focussed on doing just that.

The issue I have with security is the lack of proper training provided. For years it has been mainly young people who have probably only had to sit through a five-minute video and take a short test before they are given the responsibility of looking out for the safety of thousands of people. How is that right?

As concert goers I honestly think people now are happy to go through extensive security checks. We want the reassurance of being properly checked as we go in, and we are happy to queue much longer to have that confidence that we will be safe.

In terms of the rescue effort at Manchester Arena, after all that has been said I still believe they could and should have been in there helping us within minutes.

They can give all the excuses in the world but there simply needs to be better leadership and a better system of communications. The rescue teams on the ground wanted to be in and helping people but they were held back by people in command. The response was hampered by misinformation and miscommunication.”

Daughter was carried out on a trestle table

Ruth and Emily were eventually helped by armed police officers who entered the foyer and started to assist the many injured people.

We were left in the foyer without any help at all. We just kept thinking that help would arrive. Everybody who was able to was ringing the emergency services and asking when they were coming. People were dying in front of your eyes and it was just awful.

It was about 40 minutes until we saw anyone who could help. There were simply too few officers and too many injured for everyone to be helped, so they were going around asking people how badly injured they were and if they could walk.

Emily couldn’t walk, so they ended up carrying her out of the foyer on a trestle table, into a holding area for injured people. Outside paramedics were categorising the injured by the seriousness of their injuries and Emily was made a category two patient.

When we got to hospital, as she was so badly injured and losing so much blood, she was immediately made a category one patient. That just shows how mistakes were still being made. They were just throwing bandages at people. It was chaos.

Survivors ‘were not listened to and not considered by authorities in the aftermath

Ruth feels injured survivors were also abandoned by the authorities when it came to investigations into what had happened and what had gone wrong in the weeks and months afterwards.

This, she says, continued until a large group of survivors enlisted specialist legal help from civil liberties and human rights specialists Hudgell Solicitors.

We weren’t listened to and we weren’t considered.

Police family liaison officers took statements when we were in our hospital beds and that was the last we heard. I can remember being sat at home when all of a sudden, on the news, there was CCTV showing me and my friend before the explosion. I thought that was appalling that I’d not been warned. It showed a lack of compassion and consideration that we’ve had to contend with.

I also think that by preventing survivors from being Core Participants in the Public Inquiry, the authorities created a bit of a divide between families who lost people and those who survived, which is quite honestly appalling. We were all in this together and we all want the same thing, accountability and answers.

Of course the inquiry was rightly about those who lost their lives, but it was hard for us to be denied a voice, especially as we lived it and saw it with our own eyes.

Thankfully through our lawyers at Hudgell Solicitors we have found people willing to listen and, as a group, we have now been given a voice. Having our voice was so important.

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Five-and-a-half years rebuilding lives

Ruth and her family have spent the past five-and-a-half years trying to rebuild their lives, but over that time, the events of May 22, have proved impossible to shrug off.

Now 52, says at first she was initially feeling ‘suicidal’, and had to leave her job working at a GP surgery whilst she underwent seven operations and dozens of sessions of therapy.

Only this year has she returned to work as a receptionist, on the back of therapy sessions organised for her by Hudgell Solicitors, who partnered with rehabilitation specialists Proclaim Care to offer support to survivors.

The therapy has been absolutely essential for me and has made a huge difference,” she said.

I’d initially paid for sessions privately as I was so far down the waiting list and I simply couldn’t wait any longer. Then Hudgells arranged for more, for which the cost was covered, which was amazing as I still needed so much help, but couldn’t afford them.

It has helped me with adopting coping techniques to overcome triggers, which can happen every day from something as simple as an ambulance siren or a car backfiring. I find the scarring on my leg a trigger too, as I the operations I have had have been mostly plastic surgery, as my leg was so badly damaged and dented, and I can’t look at it because of what it stands for. I hate it and always keep it covered up.

Just recently I was able to go back to the Arena for the first time, and into Manchester on a train, which is a huge step forward. I also visited the memorial to lay flowers, which was hugely significant. Being able to work again has been a very positive step too.

As a family we had to struggle through times when both Dave and I were not earning. It’s nice to have some normality back.

Emily, now 18, has had to learn to walk again, having lost 25 per cent of movement in her left foot.

Despite her school being ‘hugely supportive’, it was a difficult time, missing large amounts of education and finding it too traumatic to handle at times.

Emily was badly affected. It was an important time in a young girl’s life and she missed lots of school, at a time when friendship groups were being established. She has panic attacks and had to be on anti-depressants from the age of 15.

It’s been completely life-changing for her, but I am so proud of how strong she has been. She is doing well, but like me, will never be able to look forward without being affected by her past.

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