An accidental influencer

Words: Catherine Levin, Editor, Emergency Services Times

You may have heard of Martyn’s Law, named after Martyn Hett who was one of 22 people tragically killed in the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017. His mother, Figen Murray OBE, spoke to me about her journey from therapist to campaigner and her drive to make sure that staff in venues like the Arena can better respond when the worst happens.

The Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill was published in May and has been through a process of pre-legislative scrutiny, where the Home Affairs Select Committee looked at its potential impact and this will inform the Government’s Bill to be put before Parliament later in the year. When the Bill becomes law, it will require some premises to assess and mitigate potential risks to the public from terror attacks at their premises. 

Figen gave evidence as part of this process. She told the committee, “The legislation is so important to me. I always see Martyn’s law as very no-nonsense, common-sense legislation that, frankly, personally speaking, should be there already.”

Learning how Parliament works

I start by asking her how she found herself at the heart of Parliament having had, prior to 2017, no exposure to the workings of government. She told me that she was alarmed that 18 months after the attack, venues still failed to carry out security checks and there was no statutory compulsion to do so. Having set up a petition to raise awareness of this weakness, she says she was naïve to think that doing this would lead to immediate legislative change. “It was a massive learning curve for me,” she confesses and has a level of self-awareness that shows why she has been so successful in her approach to campaigning for change.

Her legislative education includes speaking to the Prime Minister in December 2022. “When I spoke to Rishi Sunak, I asked him to make this law by the sixth anniversary and he told me he would love to do it but there are processes to go through, starting with the Home Affairs Select Committee.” Now she knows that the Bill won’t end up in Parliament until later in the year and there is a whole process to go through before it can be made law. The hope is that it will do so early in 2024 and before the impending general election.

Despite her positive experiences, Figen says she has learned not to easily trust people and rely on them. She’s looking more widely at who can help her. “I think it’s highly likely we’ll get a Labour government and I have been talking to the shadow Labour team.” She mentions Holly Lynch, Jess Phillips, Yvette Cooper and Lucy Powell in admiring terms.

It’s about proportionality

We talk about the objectors. Not everyone is supportive of what Figen is trying to do, but she is consistent in her argument that this is common sense legislation. “I think there is too much emphasis on the cost,” she says. She goes on to talk about proportionality, which is on the front of the Bill. “We’re not asking people to become terrorism experts. What we want is for people to let their staff do 45-minute online training, to assess their building, and think about exit routes.” She draws a parallel with fire safety requirements.

It comes down to messaging and normalising behaviour; that takes time and it takes resources to communicate this with the public. Figen is a fan of Twitter and uses that to share messages but it’s not enough to get the reach she needs to make a difference. She says she doesn’t want to argue with people, she wants to do it ‘gently, gently’ as she puts it.

The Home Office could fund a public awareness campaign, something along the lines of the Fire Kills campaign. She says they will do something but there’s no specifics on this yet. “I’m trying not to be too pushy. I’d rather do it gently.” She’s waiting for the Home Affairs Select Committee to report before pursuing this point. Her continued quiet persistence will remind officials in the Home Office about her campaign and the need for change.

Making sure it works

As with any change of legislation that requires people to do things in a different way, there must be a way to monitor it and challenge non-compliance. In many cases that means a regulator needs to be found. The draft Bill does reference enforcement but gives no detail on who would be the enforcer. We speculate whether the Security Industry Association would be the right place. She says it’s the logical choice but doesn’t know for sure.

Turning to talk about the wider issue of resilience, I asked Figen if she had been discussing Martyn’s law in resilience circles, particularly in the light of the updated Integrated Review and the National Resilience Framework. She sees the connection. “The key for me is education, if people have the right level of knowledge, they will know what to do in the event of a crisis and have personal resilience.” This attitude comes from her academic research she carried out as part of her Master’s degree in counterterrorism.

Young people at the vanguard of change

She talks about a pilot scheme taking place in 14 schools across Greater Manchester where St John Ambulance went into secondary schools to teach year 8 children life saving skills about how to respond to an incident where people are injured. “If you teach children at school age, then these young people will grow up with this knowledge and be resilient adults.” She puts her faith in young people. For her, “They are the cornerstone of a peaceful society.”

Figen is kept busy by her campaigning, but she recognises that once the legislation is in place there is still work to be done. She says that organisations like the National Preparedness Commission, where she has already spoken with its Chair, Lord Toby Harris, will be critical to spreading the message about what people need to know to be prepared in the event of a terrorist incident.

“I’m not going back to my day job; this is my life now,” she tells me. And that leads to me to ask how she keeps going: it sounds exhausting. She cites her training as a therapist and a surprising recourse to computer games to escape from the reality of the day along with knitting. With these hobbies and her big family, she has the support she needs to keep going because Martyn’s law has some way to go. I have no doubt she will, through her gentle determination, get that change for Martyn and for all those who died that day. It is a fitting tribute.

This article first appeared in the August 2023 issue of Emergency Services Times.