Worlds Collide: The Manchester Bombing, review: a powerful search for the truth behind an atrocity

On 22 May, 2017, 22 people were killed and over 1,000 injured when Salman Abedi detonated a homemade bomb in the foyer of Manchester Arena, shortly after an Ariana Grande concert. Many of them were children and young people, some on a rare night away from parental surveillance.

Worlds Collide: the Manchester Bombing (ITV) followed a dual countdown to the event: a forensic analysis of Abedi’s movements in the hours before the attack, and Abedi’s steady radicalisation, with the authorities largely oblivious. Woven throughout, crucially, were the accounts of survivors and relatives of some of those killed: Paul Hett remembering his son Martyn, a born showman who charged his parents to watch his homegrown performances; Olivia Campbell Hardy, an aspiring singer remembered by her father Steve; and survivor Lucy, who “had a good, happy childhood so I assumed that’s what the world was like”. As distressing as these recollections were, they were also infused with pride.

When dealing with the killer, director Marcus Plowright understood the crucial difference between context and defence. Salman and brother Hashem were raised by a father with hardline views and were radicalised both by associates in south Manchester and their experiences fighting alongside al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Libya. But as Hett commented, “these weren’t born bad… they were trained to fight… [Abedi] believed what [radicaliser] Ramadan told him… but people have choices – to kill 22 people, or not to kill 22 people.”

Ultimate responsibility lay with Abedi, but the opportunities to avert disaster were appraised with pitiless clarity through new interviews and footage from the recently concluded public inquiry. There were the two junior British Transport Police officers who, with one senior team member already late, opted for a two-hour kebab break and missed Abedi’s repeated recces; the stewards and BTP officers who saw but didn’t detain a man with a hefty backpack; the policy of event security team ShowSec to leave their staff to conduct counter-terrorism training unpaid, on their own time and unverified; and above all such institutional failings as MI5’s at best inadequate assessment of the threat posed by Abedi.

While all these people must live with a degree of guilt for errors of judgement, this is nothing compared to the grief of the relatives. With part two addressing the aftermath of the explosion, that is likely to feel more acute than ever, but will doubtless be handled with due care and sensitivity by this film-making team. Lessons, one hopes, have been learned.

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