Manchester Arena bomb inquiry: Woman describes ‘petrol smell’ moments before explosion

A woman who was injured alongside her sister in the Manchester Arena bombing has told the inquiry that she could smell a petrol-like substance in the moments before the explosion.

Janet Senior and Josephine Howarth were waiting for their nieces in the City Room foyer area of the arena.

They were reportedly standing 15 feet away from suicide bomber Salman Abedi as a concert by Ariana Grande was drawing to a close at the venue on 22 May 2017.

"A sharp, petrolly-type smell, but it wasn’t petrol," Mrs Senior told the Manchester Arena Inquiry.

She recalled talking to her sister about the smell.

She described how moments after her sister, Mrs Howarth, remarked that the smell could be from the trains at the adjoining station, the explosion occurred.

"I’ve described it as a bang, but it was a crack bang. Not just a bang," she said. "And a flash and of course, the impact, the energy gave you a knock."

Mrs Senior, who sustained chest and neck injuries in the explosion, described seeing pink-coloured smoke.

"It certainly knocked me about," she says of the explosion. "I don’t believe I fell over, I just think I stood against the energy and within a second I felt the most horrendous impact into my chest and neck, and it was extremely, extremely breathtaking and painful."

Mrs Senior described momentarily forgetting about her sister before hearing Mrs Howarth’s shouts for help.

Mrs Howarth sustained a leg injury and Mrs Senior described helping her sister use a handbag strap to tie around the wound to stem the blood.

"It was organised chaos," she said of the situation in the City Room following the bombing.

"My brain was trying to stay calm, stay focused, stay on your feet," she recalled thinking. "For a while it seemed like everything was in slow motion."

She described the scene as a "bit like being under water, everything moved in slow motion for a few minutes, people ran and knocked each other about".

"The pain, and trying to process what the hell had just happened, I truly thought at that point it was an explosion."

Mrs Howarth called it "organised pandemonium".

"Lots of shouting, my foot got kicked one or two times," she said. "The paramedics were amazing but they seemed to have to jump through too many hoops."

Mrs Senior said help arrived too slowly and that when someone did eventually come to assist her, he was asked to move on to help others.

"When a paramedic finally came to me, I said I haven’t been looked at," she said. "This chap appeared, whizzed him off me, never even gave it a second thought. Off he went."

She described several attempts by paramedics to assist her ending in the same way before she was finally taken to an ambulance.

The public inquiry, which is being chaired by a retired high court judge Sir John Saunders, is looking into the events before, during and after the attack, which killed 22 people.

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