CT Awards Q&A: Figen Murray
At the start of June, Figen Murray was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Counter Terrorism Award, as part of the 2020 Counter Terror Awards. Here, we get her thoughts on recognition, Martyn’s Law and venue security
On 22 May 2017, Figen Murray’s son, Martyn Hett, was one of the 22 people killed in the devastating Manchester Arena bombing attack. Following the events of that evening, Figen has made it her mission to promote peace and positive change in Martyn’s name.
Following the decision to no longer continue her work as a counsellor, Figen is now committed to her mission of promoting peace, kindness and tolerance in Martyn’s memory, while also working towards tangible changes that can help ensure no other family has to go through what hers did.
By visiting schools, universities and conferences, she is dedicated to helping stop attacks like the Manchester Arena one from happening in the future. She has so far spoken to more than 7,500 secondary school pupils across England, urging them to confront the terrible impact of the Manchester bombing, and raising awareness of the extremism behind it. Her talks also aim to show young people how they can positively influence and shape their own world, encouraging those in attendance to think about acts of kindness whilst at school and outside of it.
Figen is also the force behind Martyn’s Law, a legislation requiring entertainment venues to improve security against the threat of terrorism, and one that requires that all venues in the city have a counter-terrorism plan. Her petition to make Martyn’s Law mandatory received over 23,000 signatures and is now on its way to becoming a reality.
She has just been presented with the Outstanding Contribution award at the 2020 Counter Terror Awards for her efforts in stopping terrorism. Here we get her thoughts on a number of topics.
The Outstanding Contribution to Counter Terrorism Award, which you won this year, recognises an organisation or individual whose contribution to worldwide counter terrorism efforts has been nothing short of outstanding. How does it feel to have won the award?
Winning the award was incredibly humbling and it was an honour to be nominated alongside two people I have the utmost respect for: Neil Basu and Lucy D’Orsi. For me, winning this award made me realise that people actually listen to what I have to say and genuinely care about Martyn’s Law. It also confirmed to me that I definitely wish to continue working in the field of counter terrorism. I feel strangely at home in this field now and am very passionate about contributing in some way to help make a difference.
At the International Security Expo in December, you introduced Martyn’s Law in memory of your son. how important is it that Martyn’s Law gets government backing and ministerial support?
Getting government backing for Martyn’s Law and getting this law into the Statute Book is very important to me. Whilst we can never stop terror attacks from happening I am convinced that Martyn’s Law will act as a strong deterrent and ultimately save lives. It does simply not make sense that there are laws in place regarding the temperature of food in a canteen or the number of toilets needed at venues, yet there is no consideration given to possible attacks.
This simply has to change.Terrorists have shifted the goalposts and as a society we have to move ours to protect ourselves. I am in discussion with the security minister and his team to discuss next steps in bringing this law into reality.
Manchester City Council, another award winner this year, announced in January that it will act on proposals that will enshrine the principles of Martyn’s Law into future regulations. In Manchester specifically, where do you see this commitment going next? And do you continue to see yourself being involved?
I was delighted to see that Manchester City Council also won an award and it was in connection with Martyn’s Law. The council already invited me to some of their meetings to discuss the implementation of this law and it would be amazing if they continue to let me be involved.
As the attack where Martyn died was in Manchester it is great to see that the council initiated steps to implement Martyn’s Law ahead of the government. I would love to see physical evidence of this once we are out of lockdown. I am very grateful to the council.
One of the activities that you have become quite prominent in over the last year or so is speaking to school and college students about the extremism behind attacks, like in Manchester. Given how difficult a topic it can be to present, how important is it that children and young adults are taught and involved in discussions on extremism?
When I realised how young the Manchester attack bomber was I was quite shocked that someone so young would do something so terrible and drastic. I was more or less in shock for the first year after my son died but I instinctively knew that I wanted to address teenagers and young adults and tell them about the dangers of online radicalisation. I talk to them about Martyn, who he was and what his death did to us as a family. I talk to them about some of the signs of someone being radicalised and what to do if they suspect someone is heading in that direction.
I also tell them that I have faith that they as young people are the answer to a more peaceful future as they will be future decision makers, educators and parents and that therefore it is up to them to embrace difference as an enrichment to their lives, they become tolerant and kind people who pass these important values on to future generations.
As lockdown eases and people return to more ’normal’ routines, what must venues do to ensure that their customers are safe from terrorist dangers?
This is a tricky one. In my view there is now a bigger risk of attacks. Terrorists had time to plot and plan during lockdown and to recruit many people. They also know that the general population is desperate to go out and about and that security will be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Cafe and restaurant owners, venues in general are encouraged to use outside space to keep customers safe from Covid-19, however, this means that people sitting at tables in more open spaces will be more vulnerable to attacks.
I urge venues to do a risk assessment and act accordingly. I would also ask all venues, however big or small to train all their staff with the free of charge ACT E-Learning training so that everyone’s awareness is heightened and very current. The training takes less than an hour and could potentially save lives of staff know what to do in case something happens.
Lastly, I’d love to ask about your peace bears. Amid the negative headlines, can you explain the benefits of showcasing peace, kindness and unity, and how the bears are achieving that?
I have made these knitted bears before Martyn died. I started knitting the bears as being creative helped me through a sudden significant hearing loss which made me head towards depression. Thankfully, making the bears prevented things to go that far but I started to sell the bears online with a background story each. People could relate to the bears as their issues connected with the stories I gave them.
After Martyn died I decided to make the bears in the name of peace, kindness, unity and love. Martyn’s love always goes with them. So when I hear of someone having had a bereavement I will give them a bear. I also took four bears to New Zealand last year to give one bear each to the two mosques that were subjected to a terrorist attack in Christchurch. The other two were given to their Prime Minister and to the Mayoress of Christchurch as a thank you for looking after the victims. I also gave one bear to someone who was injured at the Boston Marathon. Some of the Manchester arena victims’ families have bears, too.
My bears go all over the world and I often hear back from them as people like to tell me what the bears get up to. The bears are for grown ups only as I really want to bring a smile back to their faces. I feel that we grow up far too fast and often forget how to play. But the bears are also very healing to so many people.