Greater Manchester Police’s chief superintendent has said extra police drafted in will be “carrying visible firearms” on patrols to “manage crowd control” as Prime Minister Theresa May, her cabinet, and 12,000 delegates swarm to the city for the four-day party conference this Sunday.
Chief superintendent John O’Hare said: “The May [Manchester Arena] attack is still fresh in our minds and the Home Office has spent more than £2m funding security. We will have over 1,000 officers, many carrying visible firearms, on patrols to try and manage crowd control.”
Alongside increased vehicle mitigation, members of the public will not be able to get as close to the conference centre as they have in the past, which O’Hare said was the main difference in security from previous years.
He added: “Members of the public will have clearly designated areas but these will be further away from the centre than before, with armed officers present at all times. No members of the public will be able to get within the centre’s grounds. It is a 24-hour job and we have also got security guards from G4S helping us.”
Armed police will be on patrol on view outside the ‘ring of steel’ which covers the conference venue and the Midland Hotel, where some senior delegates, including May, will stay. This is the fifth time the party conference has been held in the city since 2009. The most recent Tory conference held in the city, in 2015, cost the Home Office £1,918,370 in security. To enter in 2015, delegates had to queue outside the ring of steel, where some experienced abuse from members of the public. To minimise the risk of that happening this year, the public is being kept further away.
O’Hare said: “An X-ray machine will scan all bags going into the building, so if we were to get a call saying there was a device in the building, we’d know that to be unlikely.”
In terms of delegate protection, O’Hare said: “We are telling delegates to remove lanyards when they’re outside the building so that the risk of someone snatching it and then entering the centre is reduced.”
Protests are expected to take place across the duration of the four-day event. St Peter’s Square has been designated as a protest site while lobbying will be permitted closer to the venue, next to Central Library.
O’Hare said: “We’re expecting about 20,000 people protesting in the Stop Brexit national march, and around 30,000 for the People’s Assembly protest. We know what levels of protest to anticipate, and we will remind people what sort of behaviour is unacceptable.
“Those not respecting the rules will be spoken to, warned, moved on or, if they persist, arrested.”
On Sunday, the Stop Brexit march is due to leave Grosvenor Square at 1.30pm and the People’s Assembly is expected to leave Castlefield Arena at 2.30pm. The groups will meet at the Whitworth Street and Great Bridgewater Street junction and march alongside each other, on routes approved by the police and Manchester City Council.
Mounted police will also be present, supported by assistance from West Yorkshire and Lancashire police respectively, alongside around eight sniffer dogs.
Shaun Hinds, chief executive of the Manchester Central Convention Centre, said: “Security starts outside the building. By the time a delegate has made it in, nearly all security checks are completed, which is why the public aren’t allowed to get as close this year.
“The whole process of planning this event started around six months ago. The main difference is that we have changed the level of crowd management as that’s where we see the greatest risk. These are purely logistical changes. If there were technological safety measures within the centre, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.
“This is the most important event in our calendar in terms of the attraction it brings the convention – it’s our biggest showcase for what Manchester has to offer.”
John Fryer, Transport for Greater Manchester’s lead on transport and event planning, said the public should expect to experience travel delays.
He said: “People should definitely consider their journeys. As well as the conference, there are First bus drivers striking and railway industrial action, so passengers should expect disruptions for the whole week.”
Northern rail staff will hold strikes on Tuesday 3 and Thursday 5 October, which may affect the 10,000 visitors the conference is expected to bring to the city.
Fryer continued: “In terms of safety, we will have the British Transport Police working alongside PCOs and officers to protect people. There won’t be any bag scans to use transport, but a scheme is in place to manage behaviour.”
A series of road closures are in place, and Windmill Street has been closed since Wednesday evening, three days earlier than it was closed in 2015.
Fiona Worrall, Manchester City Council’s director of neighbourhoods, said: “I am confident that we have done as much as we can to protect the public and delegates during the conference.
“This sort of event brings about masses of publicity for Manchester and we want everyone to see what a great city it is for hosting things.”