Protecting people at all venues
Figen Murray, campaigner and mother of Martyn Hett, after whom the legislation is named, explains why it is important that Martyn’s Law applies to small venues as well
I was thrilled to see that the prime minister presented the draft bill for Martyn’s Law on 2nd May. Although it was an important step, I appreciated the long journey that still lay ahead. Rishi Sunak explained it at great length during our telephone conversation on 15th December. I knew that the next big step would be the two-month period of scrutiny led by the Home Affairs Select Committee, standard procedure for proposed legislation to undergo.
This process started on 6th June, and I was allowed the privilege to give evidence alongside Nick Aldworth as the first two witnesses to appear. Since I started this journey, nerves never came into play, yet I suddenly felt very anxious about this day. What finally hit me after all these months of campaigning and speaking about the legislation was the realisation that what we are working on is so important. At one point I had a “What have I started” moment. The enormity of the responsibility suddenly hit me, the importance of the legislation dawned on me, and I knew how exceptionally difficult it would be sitting in that room. There was a lot of kindness and care in the room towards me, the grieving mother. But then other witnesses appeared, and a healthy debate ensued. Martyn’s Law clearly was not popular amongst all people present in the room.
The final day of evidence led me to go on another trip to London on 20th June. I did not want to miss this significant day, needed to hear what people were asked and what answers would be given. But this day felt very different. Scrutiny was harsh and relentless! Misunderstanding hung in the room and led to confusion, maybe even irritation for some. It was very difficult to sit, yet not being able to speak, object or explain.
The committee has just delivered its report to be presented to the Home Office. I guess thereafter the Home Office will take the comments on board and adapt the legislation before government goes into summer recess.
My guess is that in the autumn, after the party-political conferences have concluded, the two houses will debate the legislation. Hopefully, King Charles will mention the legislation in the King’s Speech. This will bring the year to an end, and it is anticipated that the legislation will get royal assent, ideally before the 7th anniversary of the attack. A lot of the families who lost loved ones and people who were injured at the Arena attack are waiting for the legislation to be passed and at the end of the inquiry a few weeks ago some wished me good luck and thanked me for the effort to try and keep the rest of their families safe.
At the end of the day that is what this law is about. It will save lives! It will send a strong message out to terrorists that venues will not allow them in, that as a society we will not allow them to destroy our way of life. However, during the home affairs select committee process, it became clear to me that not everyone is thrilled with the legislation. It is of course important to have a healthy debate and things should never be one-sided, however, going very public with a negative mindset when the legislation is not yet fully understood endangers lives. A recent article in the Daily Mail and subsequent further articles on other platforms are trying to discredit the validity of Martyn’s Law for village halls and are spreading doom and gloom unnecessarily. The article smacks very much of “This will not happen here”. It is deemed that terrorists are not interested in attacking local yoga classes.
When I first read the article a few things went through my mind – why did the newspaper not contact us for a response to make for a more balanced argument? It was disappointing to say the least. However, more importantly, it reminded me of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester where on 22nd May 2017 our son Martyn and 21 others were murdered by a terrorist. The concert was deemed as not at risk of an attack as it was seen as a children’s concert due to the audience demographic. For some reason nobody thought the opposite – a children’s concert being targeted would bring the terrorist the most ultimate notoriety as children would be slaughtered. The shock effect of so many young lives being wiped out would be a perfect win for Daesh. Nobody thought of that.
When the Christchurch (New Zealand) shooter decided on which target to attack, the sleepy town of Christchurch was not his first choice, but he decided to go for it in the end to show the world that terrorists do not just go for the obvious.
My husband and I went to visit families from the two mosques three months after their attack. We arrived late Sunday night and were invited at 9 am Monday to the bigger of the two mosques. We walked during rush hour yet there was very little traffic. As we walked towards the mosque, we realised it was situated right opposite a big park. The mosque was amidst a row of houses in a quiet residential area. It seemed unfathomable that anyone would just walk in and shoot 51 people dead. The picture just did not seem to fit, yet it happened.
A few days later we visited the second much smaller mosque. Our journey led us to the outskirts of town, an area where poverty was very evident. We eventually arrived at a dirt track and saw a tiny house at the end of the drive. It was the size of a small bungalow. Seven people were shot dead and had no chance of escape.
It was quite hard to do this trip and see how vulnerable the people at both mosques were. So, when I see comments about village halls hardly likely to become a target I am taken aback at the short-sightedness and the ignorance of such remarks.
Whatever the legislation will look like once it has been scrutinised, I can only hope that people are able to consider that terrorism may eventually go the same way as county lines. Terrorists may well start going for softer targets and village halls definitely count as such.