A guest post from Figen Murray: Winner of 2020 Outstanding Contribution to Counter Terrorism award, peace campaigner and mother of Martyn Hett.
On 22 May 2017, my life changed forever. My son, Martyn, was 29 years old at the time – a vibrant, kind, and promising young man who was looking forward to seeing Ariana Grande in concert at the Manchester Arena.
Soon after 10.30pm that night we heard the news that an explosion had taken place at the Manchester Arena. Martyn was among the 22 lives that would never return home that night due to a terrorist attack.
Martyn lived life to the fullest and always spread joy to those around him. The news of his death shook our family to the core. He was such a pillar in our lives and his kindness and generosity had touched so many people. I can never fully process why the attackers would want to take away the precious life of my son along with those of all the other victims.
It became clear that the attack had been carefully planned. Radicalisation is a complex matter, but Islamist Extremism was a driving factor behind the perpetrators who killed my son. When I realised the young men behind the attack were, themselves, very young, I was horrified, and it made me think – how could young people be incited to deliver such heinous acts?
My focus has been on stopping such violent acts happening as best I can. About a year after Martyn was killed, I found the courage to start speaking to young people about what had happened.
Since then, I have channelled my energy into speaking to young people across the country. I’ve now spoken to over 10,000 people in schools, universities, and various other forums. I talk about Martyn’s death, the experience that my family went through, and explore key issues with young people around kindness, tolerance, and acceptance.
By doing so, I hope to create a positive framework for young people, so they embrace each other’s differences rather than fear them. I want young people to have hope for a kinder future and I want to prevent other families from going through the same pain that we did.
The pandemic has meant that more people are online, in unmonitored spaces and therefore potentially at greater risk of exposure to extremist content. This has made me even more determined to continue to reach young people.
The inquiry into the attack is underway. This year, on the fourth anniversary of the attack, I reflect on last year when I came face to face with the bomber’s brother as he was sentenced to 55 years in prison at the Old Bailey. Following on from this, I am now in the final stages of completing my masters in counterterrorism, and the consultation for Martyn’s Law is moving ahead. This new proposed legislation I hope will keep even more people safe at public venues. It is now my calling – to protect others against terrorism in any way that I can. I know Martyn would be proud of that.
To mark the anniversary, we are going to be joining up with friends and family in the garden to celebrate Martyn and the lives of other victims and their families affected by the attack. I am so pleased this year that we can see each other with the easing of social distancing restrictions. With a feeling of hope we all look forward to raising a glass of Martyn’s favourite drink in his memory.
Next steps: Book a free workshop for your school or college with Figen and learn more about her experiences.
If you would like to talk about the anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack with your pupils, take a look at the framework developed by the PHSE Association which helps to facilitate classroom discussions on terrorist attacks.
Figen Murray is on Twitter @FigenMurray