THE BLOG

The Manchester Attack, One Month On

22/06/2017 15:55 BST | Updated 22/06/2017 15:55 BST
Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

As I sat down to write the first draft of this, just over a month ago, the relentless hum of a police helicopter, occasionally eclipsed by the piercing sound of a passing siren, filled my apartment. It kept watch over a scene, just a few hundred yards away, of a barbaric and senseless act of violence that has claimed the lives of innocent men, women and children; a scene at which I accidentally found myself as the first journalist.

One month on, the earth shattering sound of Salman Abedi's bomb still rings in the air. I hear it regularly, late at night, sometimes turning to my phone to check if I'd imagined it, or if it had happened again.

On the evening of Monday 22nd May, I'd returned home after a long day in London and my usual evening radio show. I greeted my girlfriend and we told each other of our days. Little did we know, our day was far from over. At 10.31pm, the noise of the rumbling explosion shuddered through our flat and shook us to our core. We fell silent and stared at each other, a look of knowing, that whatever that was, it can't have been good.

We dashed to our balcony to find the entire apartment block, and three others around us, had done the same. A sea of people made their way from the Manchester Arena, a view not uncommon on a gig night. Some running, some walking, some expressing the jubilance of a great concert, oblivious to what had just happened, some confused and sharing our sense of concern. A journalistic instinct, if you will, took me to the lift and down onto the road below.

It was still hard to decipher the mood as I approached a man, walking towards the car park with his daughter. She was visibly upset with bunny-ear headwear leaning to one side on her head, innocence violated, clinging on. He was calm, almost cold. He agreed to speak to me on the record and I pulled out my phone as he quietly said two words that hung in the air for what felt like hours afterward. Suicide bomb.

My heart sank. His testimony continued. He described a chemical smell and seeing a corpse. So too did several others. I walked closer to the entrance, people all too happy to speak to me on my way. To offload, maybe, to convince themselves it's not a dream.

The scene set around me, as the emergency services seemed to fall from the sky. Shrapnel wounds, groups huddled together, fathers comforting mothers, comforting children.

I made my way through the city, now laced with armed officers, uncertainty ricocheting through the streets and returned to our studios for a night of rolling news. The show no presenter ever wants to host.

What followed will be forever written into history. A statement of compassion and community so loud that it echoed through news channels around the world. The first responders, the compassionate taxi drivers taking people from the scene for free, the homeless man that dashed to the aid of an injured woman, the image of the Muslim man and the Catholic woman knelt praying together, 50,000 people standing shoulder to shoulder with the biggest pop stars on the planet at the One Love Manchester concert, 22 of our friends and neighbours who lost their lives, not in the name of hatred and division but, as we have written it, in the name of peace and solidarity.

For this is the city of ambition and endeavour. This is the city of Jodrell Bank, where the Lovell Telescope searches space for intelligent life. This is the city of the industrial revolution that changed the world. This is the city of the suffragettes where, from oppression and adversity, came progress and democracy. This is the city of leaders and learners, where down the road at the University of Manchester, a breakthrough in Graphene is poised to save millions of lives in the developing world. This is the city of the underdog and the outsider. You need only use the ring road on your way past and you're practically part of the family. Pop in for a brew?

In the weeks that have followed, hundreds more have found themselves, by a stroke of misfortune, in the wrong place at the wrong time; witness to the worst in humanity. But witness too, to the best.

I will re-run what I saw that night till the day I die, but so too will I run the scenes of compassion and kindness. For us in the north of England, this is who we are. This is Manchester and while people seek to sow division and hatred, we do things differently here...