WHEN Figen Murray watched Prince Charles deliver the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament this week, she felt a bittersweet sense of satisfaction for her late son Martyn Hett.
For as the Prince, standing in for his mother, made the traditional announcement of the Government’s planned new legislation, one item stood out to her — the introduction of Martyn’s Law.
Since her beloved son died in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, Figen has been on a crusade to boost security at UK venues, and Tuesday’s announcement means new laws could be in place by the end of the year.
The proposed legislation that has been called Martyn’s Law aims to ensure that arenas, theatres and local authorities introduce greater protection measures, such as metal detectors and bag searches, at large venues.
It also demands anti-terrorism training for employees, and location assessments to identify a venue’s vulnerability to attack.
Figen, whose 29-year-old son was one of 22 killed at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester told UK Times: “I have dedicated every single hour of life since Martyn died to thinking how his death could make a positive change for other innocent young people like him.
“It’s been my daily driving force and now I feel change is within touching distance, thanks to the Government’s commitment to new laws in the Queen’s Speech. It’s a giant leap.
“I hope that Martyn would be saying, ‘I’m proud of you, Mum’. That’s what makes it worth it.”
‘Laughing and drinking with his friends’
Sitting next to Charles as he delivered the speech was Prince William — and just hours later, he and the Duchess of Cambridge opened a new memorial in Manchester to commemorate the victims of the attack on May 22 five years ago.
Ahead of the anniversary, 61-year-old Figen said she has “only compassion, not blame” for security staff who failed to report bomber Salman Abedi acting suspiciously before the attack.
And she insisted she no longer feels anger towards the killer, adding: “To me he’s just the foolish person who strapped a rucksack to himself and blew himself up.”
She also told how she finds it hard to listen to the music or watch the TV that Martyn liked, but will mark five years since his death “laughing and drinking with his friends, just like he would want”.
Martyn, a keen YouTuber and Coronation Street superfan, with a flourishing career in PR, had a vivacious love of life and once appeared on Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me.
He had been in high spirits before the concert, which was supposed to be his farewell night out before he set off to travel the world.
But afterwards, as the 20,000 fans began to file out, 22-year-old Islamist fanatic Abedi detonated a home-made bomb packed with screws, nuts and bolts. Sixteen pieces of shrapnel were later found in Martyn’s body.
As well as those killed, more than 800 people, many of them children, were injured.
After Martyn’s death, his many friends and fans got a hashtag on Twitter trending #BeMoreMartyn.
Figen, who lives in Cheshire, said: “Martyn was the kindest, funniest, most loving man you’ll meet. I can still hear his cackle.
“Every morning he’s the first thing I think about. I say hello to him. To me, it still feels like yesterday, it hasn’t got any easier.
“I feel like I’m in a Sliding Doors-like scenario — I can see my old life but I’ll never go back to it. I’m not someone who likes to surround myself with my son’s possessions or things from his life. If Ariana Grande is on the radio, I turn it off. I can’t watch the Come Dine With Me he appeared on, it’s too painful.
“I have a special box in the living room with his mobile phone, work bag, gifts he gave me, his glasses, which I get out occasionally but it’s just nice to know it is there.”
And Figen still finds it hard to go near Manchester Arena. She said: “I was on a train and it stopped at Victoria Station for minutes.
“It just hit me — I thought, ‘Gosh, 200 or 300 yards away from here, he lay dead on the floor’. It was not nice. It was too weird.”
Figen and her husband Stuart, 57, a GP, went to almost every day of the gruelling 197-day inquest into the bombing, which she said “took its toll” on her.
It ended in March, with a report into the findings to be announced later this year.
A first report, published by inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders last year, found that Abedi should have been identified as a security threat on the night of the attack.
Sir John found there were “serious shortcomings” and a number of opportunities missed by those in charge of security to prevent the attack.
But Figen insisted she does not blame the security guards.
She said: “I have great compassion for them, not pity. They were in the same terror attack that we’ve all been caught up in.
“They have to live with the emotions and feelings they have for the rest of their lives. These people are very young human beings who may not have been offered proper training.
“There is no blame from me to them. Lessons just need learning for the future.”
She has also forgiven attacker Abedi, who died in the blast.
She said: “Even five years on, I absolutely still forgive him. He was the foolish person who strapped a rucksack on his back and blew himself up with a stupid belief that he is going to a good place with lots of fringe benefits like virgins and goodness knows what else.
“That is a pile of rubbish. For me, the attacker was just a foolish young man. To me, the real enemy is the ideology. The best way to beat the enemy is educate yourself about the enemy, and I have learned a lot about the misplaced ideology.”
With this in mind, she embarked on a two-year masters degree in counter-terrorism, which she completed last August.
She said: “It really helped me with the grieving process and understanding radicalisation.”
With those skills she has also been touring schools and speaking to pupils about the threats of terror and radicalisation.
‘A piece of Martyn’s love spread around the world’
She said: “I speak to kids from around 11 to university age. I’ve been in front of around 18,000 now.
“Prevention has to be better than cure. I’m trying to stop others being radicalised. I talk to them about loyalty, compassion and the signs of radicalisation and how to get help.
“I warn them about the tactics that radicalisers use online.” Remarkably, Figen has also taken to travelling the world, meeting other terror attack victims.
For years, encouraged by Martyn’s memory, she has made teddy bears which she calls Peace Bears, and she likes to hand them out to young people affected by similar attacks.
She said: “Meeting others was a really important part of our journey.
“To truly understand what it feels to get caught up in a terrorist attack, you need part of that family.
“We have a strange bond. It’s like a strange club that no one wants to join but you are a lifetime member of.
“We went to Christchurch, where they had an attack in 2019, and met a young girl of about five who had been badly injured.
“In Boston, we watched the marathon and met some of the survivors of the marathon bombing in 2013. They got some of the bears.
“I’ve given them to some of the young 9/11 children. They were just two or three years old when their parents were killed. For them, their pain is only just being apparent.
“I took them in a box. It’s a piece of Martyn’s love being spread around the world, I guess.”
Next month, Figen will have a special teddy bear made for herself to commemorate Martyn’s death. It will be made from “800 to 900” melted-down nuts, bolts and screws she has collected from around the world.
The bear will hold a small heart, which will be made from 16 pieces of shrapnel they found in Martyn’s body.
She said: “I’m hoping the bear will be made in the next few weeks, a nice way to mark the five-year anniversary really. When it’s done, it won’t even be on display in my home. It will be very private.
“It’s my way of giving two fingers to the terrorists. It’s a message saying, ‘You may have killed my son with nuts and bolts, but I’m turning those nuts, bolts and screws into love. It is so important’.”
Next Sunday, on the fifth anniversary of the attack, there will be a memorial service at Manchester Cathedral but Figen will not be going. Instead, she will gather with her family and Martyn’s friends at her home, where there is a tree planted in his honour.
She said: “I can’t go into Manchester on the anniversary — that is too much for me. I feel that I must be at home.
“We’ll be around his tree, celebrating, eating, drinking, laughing, crying. It will be joyous.
“I know Martyn would be proud that I’d campaigned for this law for him and would find it hilarious that his mum, who previously had no idea how to use social media, had used it to get these changes.
“He wouldn’t believe that I’ve even got more followers on Twitter now than he had.
“It won’t bring my son back, but if Martyn’s Law can save lives in the future, I’ll be happy.”
Figen began devising Martyn’s Law in 2018 after her bag was not checked at a gig.
Its aim is to improve security and safety at large venues.
- Free counter-terror training for event staff
- Assessments to see how vulnerable venues are
- Clear counter-terror plans by venues and councils
- Better security checks, including bag searches
We pay for your stories!
Do you have a story for UK Times news desk?