Manchester Arena attack three years on: survivors tell their stories

22 May 2020, 10:08

Three years ago 22 people were killed at the Ariana Grande concert
Three years ago 22 people were killed at the Ariana Grande concert. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Survivors of the Manchester Arena terror attack have recalled the night their lives were changed forever, three years after the tragedy.

Twenty-two people were killed and hundreds injured in the suicide bombing at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in 2017.

As memorial services were being held today in memory of the victims, LBC News has spoken to survivors on how they have been rebuilding their lives after narrowly escaping death.

Survivor Martin Hibbert, who was the closest person to the explosion to survive, recalled how doctors told him it was like "being shot at point-blank range 22 times," and that "someone was looking down on him that day.

Another survivor told us how she has joined a choir of fellow survivors to help her deal with the trauma of the night.

Natalie Harrison, 17, of Wigan, was at the concert with her mum Melanie but they were in different parts of the Arena when the bomb went off.

Now she sings in she Manchester Survivors choir, which is a group of mostly parents and children who were at the Arena on the night of the attack, and was formed as a way to unite and help those affected by the atrocity.

Since 2018 it has more than quadrupled in size, with nearly 100 members. They say singing together has made them stronger.

The 17-year-old said she no longer feels safe in crowds unless she knows there is security nearby.

She said the impact has been mostly mental on her, but the anniversary was a special day nonetheless.

"It's a time for everyone to reflect, and remember those who were lost and their families," she said.

She added it was also normally a time for survivors to "come together, and be strong."

Speaking of the importance of marking the anniversary, Natalie said: "It's a day that changed everybody's lives."

"I think it's important to reflect that and have something planned for that day, even if we can't be in Manchester to pay our respects."

Natalie Harrison was 15 at the time of the attack
Natalie Harrison was 15 at the time of the attack. Picture: LBC News

Due to the coronavirus crisis this year's anniversary has seen social-distancing measures putting a halt on mass gatherings.

It means Manchester Cathedral will have to broadcast two services on its Facebook page, urging people to log on at home rather than attend in person like previous years.

The attack brought the people of Manchester together
The attack brought the people of Manchester together. Picture: PA

Molly Baigent is a survivor of the attack. She said this year will feel different because of the lockdown restrictions.

She said the anniversary is "not about myself, it's about making sure that we do remember the lives we lost."

"Lives were lost way too early," Molly told LBC News, saying it was not something people should forget.

She said it would be a hard day because "we can't be together," the survivor said she normally spends the day in Manchester with their friends and paying tribute.

But, due to lockdown that will not be possible, so she will use digital platforms to stay in touch with her friends and they can support one another.

"It's been a tough journey, a really tough journey," she said.

On Thursday Ariana Grande sent a heartfelt message to fans, writing on Instagram: “I want to take a moment to acknowledge and send my love to everyone that is feeling the sadness and tremendous heaviness of the anniversary coming up this week.

“Not a day goes by that this doesn’t affect you and all of us still. I will be thinking of you all week and weekend.”

She added, “My heart, thoughts, prayers are with you always.”

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Martin Hibbert was at the concert arena on May 22, 2017, to watch Ariana Grande with his daughter, Eve.

He was the closest person to the arena bomber, Salman Abedi, to survive the blast. Martin said he always planned to leave the concert early because his daughter had school the next morning.

He told LBC News his doctors said they could not explain how he managed to survive with such serious injuries.

Martin was left with more than 20 wounds over his body which he said was "like being shot at point-blank range 22 times."

Luckily all the shrapnel missed any of his vital organs but he was told by doctors he would be in a wheelchair for life after shrapnel severed his spine.

Following four months of radical treatment in Queensland, Australia, in 2019, Martin regained movement in his legs.

The mother of victim Martyn Hett has said this year's anniversary would be "very strange".

Figen Murray said: "Before the restrictions, it was really important we had connectedness and reached out, family and friends, but also the wider community, to come together.

"We can't do that this year. It's going to be very strange.

"I'm normally a really robust and resilient person, but I've had so much time on my hands. I'm struggling a bit.

"I can't have people to visit, it is very raw, I have noticed I am very reflective, I dream a lot."

Instead, Mr Hett's family and friends have been planning to join a group chat on video conferencing app Zoom, raising a toast to the 29-year-old PR manager.