Some survivors of the Manchester Arena bombing had to wait in pain for up to four hours before being loaded onto an ambulance, the inquiry into the atrocity was told.
One of them, Martin Hibbert, described how first responder covered his stricken daughter’s head, assuming she had died from a devastating head injury, even though he said he could see her ‘gasping for breath’.
It was almost two hours after the blast when Mr Hibbert, from Bolton, who was left paralysed from the waist down, and his daughter Eve, then 14, who suffered a devastating head injury, were finally loaded into ambulances to be taken to hospital.
Others had even longer waits.
Claire Booth, who saw her sister Kelly Bewster, 32, suffer fatal injuries in the blast, and her daughter Holly were only loaded into an ambulance three hours and 28 minutes after the blast.
Bradley Hurley, who saw his sister Megan, 15, die in front of him, was the last survivor to be removed from the City Room, foyer where the bomb was detonated.
He had to wait four hours and 13 minutes to be loaded onto an ambulance despite severe shrapnel wounds and two badly broken legs.
All three described feeling abandoned and increasingly desperate calls for paramedics to come into the arena foyer to treat casualties who had suffered devastating injuries as the inquiry into the atrocity resumed today (Thursday).
The inquiry has heard only three paramedics treated or assessed casualties in the foyer where the explosion happened.
Mr Hibbert, who was left paralysed following 22 shrapnel wounds which left ‘holes all over me’ and a severed spinal cord, told the independent inquiry he saw first responders twice cover up his 14-year-old daughter Eve’s head, once with a t-shirt and then with a poster.
The witness recalled questioning why someone was covering her up as she was still breathing.
“People thought she had died but I was close to her and could see she was breathing. It was almost gasping for breath. It wasn’t like you were asleep breathing where you could get it mixed up, you could see her lips quivering and really gasping for breath. So that was always a big frustration of mine, if I’d lost consciousness, Eve wouldn’t be here,” the football agent told the inquiry.
The witness said rescuers had assumed his daughter ‘had an unsurvivable injury’ and had been ‘playing God’ without the appropriate medical qualifications.
The inquiry heard Eve, now 18, could now see, hear, talk and eat despite a devastating brain injury caused by shrapnel from the bomb.
Father and daughter had been between five and six metres from suicide bomber Salman Abedi when he detonated a huge improvised device in his backpack as mainly young concert-goers were leaving an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena at 10.30pm on May 22, 2017.
The pair are among 28 survivors left ‘very seriously’ injured out of a total of 940 people who were hurt, according to revised figures presented at the inquiry.
He recalled thinking at the time his beloved daughter ‘looked beautiful’ as they had dinner at San Carlo in Manchester ahead of the concert.
Moments after the pair left the concert, he heard ‘an almighty bang’. adding that it ‘beggars belief the pair survived as they were so close to the bomber.
“I thought I had been hit by a ten tonne truck. I was panicking and couldn’t breathe and fell to the ground. I knew something serious had happened,” he said.
Struggling to compose himself, Mr Hibbert said: “That’s when I saw… Eve. It was almost like she had been shot through the head.”
He described graphic details of her injuries, saying he believed at the time she was ‘dying in front of my eyes’.
Mr Hibbert said ‘it seemed like forever’ before the emergency services arrived and described as ‘baffling’ his daughter wasn’t placed into an ambulance straight away.
After a wait for an ambulance of almost two hours, he said he owed the paramedic Paul Harvey his life that night for deciding to take him to Salford Royal Hospital which has a major trauma unit.
Now a trustee of the Spinal Injuries Association, he described he had been left in a wheelchair for the rest of his life and how he struggled with PTSD and depression.
Eve, he said, was in hospital for ten months and is the only person in the world to survive her type of brain injury.
At first doctors thought she would remain in a vegetative state but her father said Eve had made progress and was now able to see, hear, talk and eat. She also suffered bouts of depression, he said.
The inquiry heard Mr Hibbert was finally loaded onto an ambulance at 00.24, one hour and 52 minutes after the blast. Eve was on the ambulance six minutes before her father, at 00.18.
Mr Hibbert said some of the first responders that night were ‘playing God’ even though they did not have the right medical qualifications.
“You do your damndest to preserve life and don’t make a decision yourself and walk away”, he said.
He added: “You just feel so alone and that nobody cares. It was awful.”
Claire Booth, from Sheffield, who was just nine metres from the bomber, told the inquiry she saw ‘a huge yellow flash’, describing a feeling of intense heat ‘like a blow torch’. She didn’t realise it at the time but a piece shrapnel had lodged in her jaw bone and her calf was damaged.
She saw her sister Kelly and daughter Holly were both on the ground, although she thought neither looked injured at that time.
Ms Booth said she picked up Holly and ran but only then realised Kelly wasn’t running with them.
She returned to find her sister and described repeatedly pressing items onto ‘holes’ in Kelly’s legs to stem the bleeding but each time she did she saw her jeans redden with blood and she realised there was yet another injury.
The witness said it felt like they were waiting for medical help ‘for such a long time’.
She could see police officers in the foyer but no paramedics and she repeatedly asked the police ‘where’s the ambulance?’.
“Everybody you asked said ‘they are on the way’ but they never came,” she said.
She recalled thinking her daughter was going to die ‘because nobody was coming to help her’.
A metal barrier was brought up for Holly to act as a makeshift stretcher while Ms Booth was taken away in a wheelchair. She was ‘desperately’ looking for her sister Kelly as she was moved.
Her daughter had been left ‘incredibly scared’ and had to grip onto the metal barrier to prevent her sliding off, the inquiry was told.
Ms Booth said her ‘heart sank’ when they realised they had simply been moved into another area on the adjacent railway station concourse and were not yet being taken to hospital.
At the ‘casualty clearing station’ set up on the station concourse, there was ‘not a lot of support from paramedics’ although police came to her aid, she said.
She said she was ‘left guessing all night’ about when her ambulance would turn up and which hospital they would be going to.
“It was very chaotic – there didn’t seem to be a plan,” she said.
The inquiry hears that mother and daughter were both loaded onto an ambulance at 1.59am.
It meant the pair left the station three hours and 28 minutes after the detonation, the inquiry was told.
Ms Booth said she was forced to wait even after she had been taken out of the station.
Asked by counsel to the inquiry Sophie Cartwright QC how long she thought she had been waiting for the ambulance outside the station, Ms Booth said: “Every minute felt like an hour but roughly an hour, something like that.”
She said she spent four weeks in hospital and now suffers from PTSD. “PTSD now runs my life,” she said.
Holly suffered 13 shrapnel wounds, including a broken leg and internal injuries. She was in hospital for eight weeks. She lost so much blood while she was kept waiting she required eight blood transfusions, the inquiry was told.
She has so far undergone 17 operations, with more in the future, and will never fully recover, according to her mother.
Another survivor, graphic design student Bradley Hurley, from Liverpool, described how his younger sister Megan, 15, died right in front of him as the pair left the arena bowl.
He was holding his sister’s hand as they left and recalled suddenly hearing a ‘high-pitched mosquito sound’ and fell to the ground.
Mr Hurley tried to get up but realised both his legs had been broken and he had suffered second degree burns in the blast. He had suffered eleven shrapnel wounds to his legs.
Megan wasn’t moving.
“I knew straight away she had died. I could see from her stomach she wasn’t breathing,” he said.
He recalled shouting her name as loud as he could and then he turned her over but she looked ‘awful’.
He tried but could not find her pulse. He said he felt strangely calm and knew he had to save himself.
“I just thought it’s happened and there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said.
He recalled how the foyer ‘descended into chaos’ and he started to feel panic as he couldn’t move and he thought he was bleeding to death.
“It was the worst imaginable situation,” he said.
He recalled police officers in the foyer and how someone tried to take a pulse from Megan and then turned to him and said ‘I’m sorry’.
The witness said he didn’t think anyone had properly checked him over in the City Room as his injuries remained covered by his jeans the whole time he was there.
He had been assessed for only ten seconds by advanced paramedic Patrick Ennis, the inquiry was told.
He described seeing ‘boots’ walking around him and being ‘in so much pain’.
Mr Hurley said he started asking when the ambulances were coming – he had heard sirens outside.
Police officers assured him they were on the way but he ‘got the vibe’ that those officers were also frustrated that paramedics were not yet there.
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Mr Hurley said someone put a wristband on him with a number 2 on it – he recalled feeling ‘really shocked’ as he believed his condition was more serious than ‘secondary priority’.
No-one removed his jeans to assess his injuries, he said.
His parents, who had brought the brother and sister, to Manchester, managed to get into the City Room and realised their daughter had died.
Mr Hurley said, out of desperation, he had asked someone about a defibrillator and that it was ‘mad’ that no-one else had thought of this.
First responders then started to work on Megan, using a defibrillaltor Mr Hurley had asked for, but to no avail.
He recalled someone else ‘abruptly’ telling those working on Megan to ‘stop and move on’. Despite the order, they continued to work on Megan, said Mr Hurley.
As he continued to lose blood, Mr Hurley described how he started to feel ‘freezing cold’ and was shaking.
He was covered with a green plastic sheet while his parents continually asked where the ambulances and paramedics were, the inquiry was told.
“Everything seemed to be going so slow… It just felt like such a long time. We were in a major city and there was a major terror attack and you would think you would be straight to hospital but not at all,” said Mr Hurley.
He recalled feeling shock when he saw makeshift stretchers being used to remove casualties.
“I thought surely to god there had to be better way of getting people out, I thought it was bad but it was getting worse,” he said.
He said he recalled hearing so many sirens but it ‘didn’t match’ what was in the City Room. There was ‘such chaos and a lack of paramedics’.
His ‘frantic’ mother was asking for oxygen and pain relief for him.
“She was just angry. It was just shocking to us that we were still in that room and I was bleeding and in so much pain,” said Mr Hurley.
He recalled ‘screaming and swearing’ in pain when police officers eventually lifted him onto a makeshift stretcher.
He was gripping onto the bars of the fence as he thought he would slide off as he was moved to the railway station concourse and felt ‘sick’ at leaving behind Megan.
The witness said the sites he saw would ‘haunt me until my dying day’.
The inquiry heard, some four hours and 13 minutes after the blast, at 2.44am, he was finally loaded onto an ambulance, arriving at hospital seven minutes later.
Mr Hurley said: “That’s such a long time to be in so much pain. It’s just bizarre it would take so long, I would hope it didn’t happen to someone else.”
Even whilst in the ambulance, the crew remained for a period as they didn’t know what hospital they were going to, he said.
He recalled ‘screaming in pain’ whenever the ambulance turned corners on the way to the hospital.
The inquiry heard Mr Hurley spent a month in hospital, two weeks of which were in the high dependency unit.
He underwent four operations but his body had suffered ‘irreparable damage’. Mr Hurley said he had been diagnosed with PTSD and suffered ‘night terrors’.
Mr Hurley said the revelations in the inquiry so far had been ‘frustrating and shocking’ and ‘leave us even more angry’.
The inquiry continues.