Remembering the Manchester victims - one year on
It’s hard to know what to say without sounding cliched in these moments but I’m guessing many of us who were in Manchester last May will probably have heavy hearts about the bomb attack for many years to come.
For me, the opportunity to be a BBC reporter on such an event was both an honour - and a horror.
It was a month as a journalist that I'll remember for the rest of my days.
But also as a human - it made me question, rethink and revalue so many parts of my life.
This morning I revisited my posts blogging life as a local journalist during the weeks that followed the evening of the 22nd May 2017. I've shared a few of them later in this blog post.
For many journalists in the BBC Radio newsroom, reporting the arena bomb attack wasn’t just a one day event.
There were the days of raids that followed, the endless naming of victims, the inquests opening and closing, the arrested released with no charge, the One Love Manchester concert, a general election in between and then reporting of the funerals for weeks afterwards...
It was all we heard, talked about, covered for over a month - unable to escape. There was also a hell of a lot of info that we as local journalists chose not to report for a variety of editorial reasons. Even a year on, there probably isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t cover the arena attack.
It changed the course of my career for sure, it was a major decider for leaving my BBC staff job and moving away from the daily hamster wheel of breaking news.
I felt tired of it all.
I often found myself questioning how you make sense of such a horrible atrocity. Especially when the bomber lived, engaged and grew up in the very community he set out to destroy.
Watching and listening to the coverage today - a year on - is different.
There is an air of solidarity.
There is a great sense of spirit in Manchester that has been reignited.
There is a feeling of hope and strength.
There are incredible stories of recovery, of inspiration, of defiance - that show from the smallest of gestures to the very public.
Life here is not all roses, my heart is with the families who are left today asking why.
But I'm also proud of how my colleagues, friends and city responded to one of the worst terror attacks to ever happen in the UK.
So however your marking the ‘one year on’, I send you a big hug with the certainty that Manchester's spirit will shine brightly once again over the next few days. ❤️
Below is a timeline of my posts whilst working at BBC Radio Manchester during May and June 2017.
24th May 2017 I posted on Facebook of my description of life as a journalist over those first 36 hours reporting the attack:
"I don’t have a blog, this is the place where I communicate most. I don’t usually share my opinions, I tell the stories of others. It’s difficult to know what to say, what to post, when to draw a line under what’s happened and return to ‘normal’ life. There are no rules or protocol for situations like this. But this is my reflection on all the things I’ve listened to, witnessed and know from the last 36 hours - professionally and personally. Apologies if I miss anything or anyone out.
On the evening of Monday 22nd May 2017 the chaos began on social media at just after 22:30 as the video showing the crowd in Manchester Arena leaving the gig began to circulate, that ‘boom’ heard on the video is what we now know was a bomb. At the time there were so many rumours, and plenty of unconfirmed statements being posted - could it have been a balloon which popped or a loud speaker which exploded…? Just before 11pm, we were hearing the first few callers on Allan Beswick’s late night phone in on BBC Radio Manchester - filled with panic, not really knowing what had happened but driving home in their cars wondering what they’d left behind… our reporter richard stead was on the ground speaking to those as they left the arena describing the blood on their clothes, shrapnel in their skins, the parents waiting outside not knowing what to do…then just before midnight confirmation came from police that there had been a serious incident, one which was being treated as a terror event where there had been fatalities and a number of serious injuries.
I entered the office just after midnight where the phones were ringing non-stop on air and in the office - calls from our area, across the country and internationally. There were a huge amount of unknowns and rumours - and yes there was a delay in the major news outlets reporting all the details, and yes you may have read details on social media first but we wanted to get it right from official sources only, conscious that as we told listeners on BBC Radio Manchester of how they would receive the news. One caller was live as Allan Beswick confirmed that there were indeed fatalities, the man was driving home from the concert with his daughter safely asleep beside him counting his blessings… Another caller Emma was sobbing live on air telling us “there were bodies everywhere, I don’t know how we survived…” I think at this point we as a team in our office began to realise the scale of what was about to unfold. Also we realised the impact not just on our city - but heard of the people who had travelled from Newcastle, North Wales, Middlesborough, all over the country to be at this event.
By 1am, I left the office to head to the Holiday Inn, we’d been unable to confirm that there were children stranded from parents and guardians were being taken in there as a place of refuge. I went to try and find out if that was true before we reported it. In the end I couldn’t get close because the police cordon was so wide around the city centre - they were clearing roads to park rows and rows of ambulances to treat those injured, and the bomb disposal team were driving alongside the roads I walked ready to make a controlled explosion on what turned out to be abandoned clothes. I walked alone through the street talking to people along the way hearing their experiences (and yes mum, I was being as safe as possible) - a taxi driver pulled over to check I was ok and told me he’d been offering lifts to people who’d been separated on other sides of the city. I went into the foyer of the travel lodge on great ancoats street, one of the many hotels acting as a refuge for people to gather their thoughts, charge phones, check in on social media and arrange a lift home. One family will be forever etched in my minds - a mum, dad, daughter and her friend… the daughter told me she’d been physically sick as she was so scared she wouldn’t be able to leave the arena, but she was pleased that ‘Ariana’ was OK. The dad unable and not wanting to talk, but mum confirmed they both work by day as nurses - what they’d seen was truly awful. He had stayed behind to perform CPR on some of the victims, but been unable to make a real impact. I wished them a safe journey home. But now a day later, I wonder whether they and their daughter are ok realising the scale of what they had been caught up in..
Around 2am, I spent some time driving around the cordon in the city centre taking in where people were gathering, which hotels or pubs had kept their doors open, and any road closures so I could update the guys at the office as best as possible. The city centre was a strange and eery place - sirens are a permanent part of the soundscape in Manchester, but that night they were the only thing you could hear, plus the helicopter didn’t seem to break from noisily circling above for hours. Over the next few hours calls continued to filter through on air - inc North West Tonight presenter Annabel who said she’d met one of the grandmother’s whose child had died, a statement from the chief constable live from the police HQ on what they were dealing with, a tweet from Ariana Grande who said she was “broken” and “so so sorry”.
Our phones in the office were ringing constantly with requests for contact numbers, reporters names, audio… I built a script of the timeline around 3.30am ready to break the news to BBC local radio stations across the country, a snapshot of what had happened overnight - additionally I did some 10 live interviews internationally with those in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand for TV and radio bringing them up to speed with the facts and what we knew in our newsroom. I gave live updates during Allan Beswick’s overnight programme, the breakfast programme with Ali and Phil, Mike Sweeney live from the city centre.
But just before 6am hearing the voice of Charlotte Campbell on BBC News stopped many of us in our tracks… her and her family’s appeal to find their daughter Olivia Campbell aged 15 who had’t been heard or seen since the concert was most distressing. She could of course been safely sleeping in one of the many hotel’s to offer a free bed to stay, blissfully unaware.. The hashtag #MissingInManchester began to trend.
By 7.30am, a press conference by the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and Sir Richard Leese confirmed that there were now 22 dead plus the man responsible for the attack: “Hard to believe, an evil act, grieving but strong…” and “terrorism never wins, our communities will come together” At this point I was in a windowless box for 3 hours churning out GNS interview after GNS interview, from BBC Nottingham to BBC Ulster, Devon, Coventry, WM etc having had no sleep overnight or eaten in hours. Managers in the newsroom were texting me updates to keep me connected to what the latest was. When I returned to the office at around 8.30am a colleague was openly weeping in the office. It made me stop thinking of the ‘numbers, timeline and statistics’ for a moment. Hearing the 9am bulletin on our station gave me chance to hear how people had been reacting across the city waking up - incredibly moving. Even the emotion in Mike Sweeney’s voice when he went live just after 9 - a fella whose been broadcasting some 30 years. Our reporters Michelle Adamson, Shourjo Sarkar and Kate West were live from prayer points, children’s hospital, the cordon by the arena… Several people inc Pav Bhatti, Sophie Yardley, Jason Hardy, Talat Awan, Andrew Bowman, Kate Squire, Libby Willis and more had worked non-stop for hours, some through the night and day. I know my buddy Keith Jacobsen had worked for some 20 hours too.
Eventually I left the office to finally sleep, awoke after few hours to panic messages from my dad, caught up with my mum and watched via Facebook live the incredible vigil in Albert Square with its packed crowds in the sunshine. The incredible words of the poet Tony ‘Mancunians Forever’ Walsh, the bishop of Manchester lighting a candle (or was it Jeremy Corbyn as my mum said!), the pictures of the Manchester Bee rippling across social media… But I also realised that where the man responsible was born, bred Manchester, a student from the university I went to, lived on the street in Chorlton just metres from my close friends - plus there were further arrests on addresses in Whalley Range where I lived from 3 years when first arriving here in 2012. This terror attack was’t something that happened miles away, watched on tv - it happened right on my doorstep.
Upon waking this morning I’m heartbroken to hear news that 15 year old Olivia Campbell was one of the 22 who died in the Manchester Arena blast. A mum never found her daughter after hours of waiting, praying and begging. My colleague Lexy O’Connor spoke with one of the family members yesterday. Lord only knows what they must be going through. Over the last year, I’ve worked as weekend editor overseeing some of our station’s faith programming - members of all religions contacted me yesterday with media statements expressing their support.
Looking ahead, the next few days is very busy in the calendar of Manchester…even before funerals, parades and memorial services…there are events such as Manchester United’s Europa final tonight, the televised City Games and 10k run at the weekend, a huge gig at the cricket ground for The Courteeners et al on Sunday…. Life must go on. I’ve watched with pride at the videos produced by our graphics team in Salford for BBC Newsround - take a few minutes to watch it, to help spot the signs that a friend, family member or colleague may need support: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/13865002 Plus a collection of emotional tributes from last night’s vigil made by Kate Berry for BBC 5Live shows how the community has really come together out of adversity: https://www.facebook.com/bbc5live/videos/10155411880896108/ And finally, the historic photo of the post box standing tall from the Manchester IRA bomb in 1996 has once again become an emblem for our city - we rebuilt before, we’ll rebuild once again. #ChooseLove#WeStandTogether
(Apologies for selfishly rambling, just trying to make sense of it all.)"
24th May 2017 after finishing a day reading news bulletins:
25th May 2017 a minute's silence is held in St Ann's Square:
25th May 2017 another day of reading news bulletins every 30 minutes:
26th May 2017 finally a day off to reflect after working 11 days straight:
This is the full post:
"Update: For the past few days I've struggled to talk, struggled to write full sentences and struggled to even see clearly. Part of me doesn't want to for fear and dread of what comes next. It feels so wrong that it's so sunny outside yet something really shit and dark has happened, but then the great weather does match the great spirit around the city... The anger hit me last night, then confusion and now utter sadness. I tried to explain my 'wave' to colleagues.
For me (and I know everyone is different) the adrenaline fuelled pace kept me going whilst receiving tribute after tribute, false calls of raid after raid, truthful calls of raid after raid, knowing why there was a delay in victim's names being released, vigil after vigil... reading and writing accurate bulletins every hour, bulletins every half hour, and keeping abreast of social media... and then suddenly I feel guilty that now after 10 days without a break I'm exhausted.
I returned to work this morning for our daily planning meeting: there's a general election nxt week, there's whit walks, 10k run, city games, courteneers gig, liam gallagher gig...I'm aware of even announcements from my beloved Manchester Storm... (sorry I've not been able to cover this) - all great things to look forward to.
However I'll be honest that I'm finding it difficult to look ahead whilst still processing all the things I've read, heard, seen from this week.
I'm also trying to understand the difference between what is news and what is trauma. The very nature of being a journalist exposes you to awful things: even in the last week I've recorded stories (unbroadcastable for legal reasons) of child sex exploitation, on my social media in the last week I received death threats over coverage of Rochdale grooming...
So how can I now tell the difference between that (assumed 'normal' working day) and knowing I've experienced 'trauma'?
I do want to talk but also I don't. And i appreciate the many gestures you've all expressed, thank you. I'm aware everyone processes things so differently, but I find (and this is perfectly understandable & OK by the way) that when I begin explaining how I feel people want to talk about their feelings too, when actually all I want...is to be heard. <Cue: feelings of guilty and selfishness all over again...>
What's also weird, is being single during something like this. This is the exact time you need someone to spoon and hold you tight at night...but there is no one for me, just my millions of teddy bears. Which is also making me feel a bit sad. (Tho - gotta give massive credit to my housie Sarah who has made me tea, fed me magnums & been there for me past few days. It's been nice not to live on my own for sure.)
Today I'm back in work. I feel sh*te. But I have spoken to a counsellor as part of our Employee Assistant Programme which did help. She told me to watch my caffeine intake as it can make anxiety worse. I told her it was alright, I'll swop it for prosecco instead if that was ok..! I can only think about things in the present, not next week. So I'll take my time today, and this weekend to have hugs from my friends wherever possible. And thank feck I didn't bother with mascara today! xx"
4th June 2017 Reporting live on BBC Radio Manchester facebook page all the build up to One Love Manchester concert at Old Trafford Cricket Ground:
4th June 2017 Watching over the crowd leaving One Love Manchester concert near Old Trafford:
8th June 2017 Just days later fuelled by coffee our same team had a huge General Election to cover!
15th June 2017 Reporting live outside the funeral of one of the 22 victims - John Atkinson from Radcliffe:
July 2017 Tributes have appeared all over the city to remember the 22 who died and hundreds who were injured during the attack. This one is in Longford Park, Stretford - a place I found solace in writing poetry to process all the madness of those few weeks in the newsroom.